BEIJING: China’s parliament on Thursday (May 28) approved Hong Kong’s national security Bill that has caused uproar in the city about concerns over freedoms in the financial hub.
The National People’s Congress of more than 2,800 delegates voted in favour of the proposal to draft the law, which would punish secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and acts that endanger national security.
Only one person opposed the proposal, while six abstained.
The legislators gathered in the Great Hall of the People burst into sustained applause when the vote tally was projected onto screens.
On Wednesday, Beijing expanded the scope of draft national security legislation to include organisations as well as individuals.
The security legislation could pave the way for Chinese security agencies to open up branches in Hong Kong. It targets secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference – terms that are increasingly used by authorities to describe last year’s protests in the city.
The Bill has revived mass protests by demonstrators who say China aims to curb the freedoms enjoyed in Hong Kong, a global financial centre with broad autonomy.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong insist there is no threat to the city’s freedoms.
The NPC Standing Committee – which is likely to meet next in June – will now be tasked with formulating the legislation, which Beijing has said must be done “at an early date”.
Ahead of the Chinese parliament approving the Bill, the US revoked Hong Kong’s special status under US law, opening the way for the city to be stripped of trading privileges, as Washington accused China of trampling on the territory’s autonomy.
“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, adding the trade hub “does not continue to warrant” its special status.
UNREST IN HONG KONG
The national security Bill triggered the first big street unrest in Hong Kong in months on Sunday, with police firing tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters, evoking memories of violent anti-government protests that paralysed parts of the city last year.
More protests took place in the city over the week against a Bill to criminalise disrespect of the Chinese anthem as well.
The Bill carries penalties of up to three years jail and/or fines of up to HK$50,000 (US$6,450) for those who insult the anthem. It also orders that primary and secondary school students in Hong Kong be taught to sing the March of the Volunteers, along with its history and etiquette.
The anthem Bill is expected to be turned into law next month.
Police fired pepper pellets and made 360 arrests on Wednesday as thousands of people took to the streets in anger over both Bills. Riot police were also deployed on Thursday.
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