In a move that has intensified concerns amongst many Hong Kongers, China’s parliament approved a controversial bill that would effectively make it a crime to undermine Beijing’s authority in the city. This new law could see China implementing its own security agencies in the territory for the first time ever.

On Thursday, the National People’s Congress voted overwhelmingly in favour of drafting the bill with 2,878 votes for and only one vote against. The bill will reportedly aim to quell secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference. More details will follow in the upcoming months.

The law, which was revealed last week, has already spurred pro-democracy protests across Hong Kong with authorities arresting up to 360 people on Wednesday. Many have risen concerns that the new law will be a threat to Hong Kong’s autonomy and diminish the city’s “one country, two systems” approach. The system has been in place since 1997 when Britain returned its former colony to the Chinese mainland.

This isn’t the only time China has flexed its powers over the city. Last year, Hong Kong was subdued by protests that lasted for months after the city introduced a new bill that would see residents extradited to the mainland. The bill was eventually shelved.

The new security bill is forecasted spur a continuation of last year’s protests which risks being more intense as more details follow.

Pro-democracy activist, Joshua Wong, who rose to prominence during the 2014 Umbrella Movement said, “Once the law is implemented, Hong Kong will be assimilated into China’s authoritarian regime, on both rule of law and human rights protections.”

Hong Kong’s Special Status

A day prior to China approving the national security bill, the United States’ Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, addressed Congress on the matter, stating that the city no longer qualified for special treatment under US law.

“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” Pompeo said in a statement.

As a global financial and trading hub, Hong Kong was eligible for favourable trading terms under a special status from the US, dating back to when the territory was under British rule. However, since last year, the status was contingent on the city maintaining its significant autonomy from China. If there is evidence that shows that autonomy has been compromised, the US Congress can revoke it. This would mean that Hong Kong would be treated the same as the mainland when it comes to trade and other sectors.

The bill can also deliver a huge economic blow between the US and Hong Kong, jeopardising billions worth of trade. It will also negatively impact China which uses Hong Kong as an intermediary for transactions to the rest of the world.

Photo Credit: AFP

Aisha Mohamed