HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers sharply criticized China’s move to take over long-stalled efforts to enact national security legislation in the semi-autonomous territory, saying it goes against the “one country, two systems” framework under which Beijing promised the city freedoms not found on the mainland.
The proposed bill, submitted Friday on the opening day of China’s national legislative session, would forbid secessionist and subversive activity, as well as foreign interference and terrorism. It comes after months of pro-democracy demonstrations last year that at times descended into violence between police and protesters.
The bill, among the most controversial items on the agenda of the National People’s Congress in years, drew strong rebukes from the U.S. government and rights groups. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the move, saying “the decision to bypass Hong Kong’s well-established legislative processes and ignore the will of the people of Hong Kong would be a death knell for the high degree of autonomy Beijing promised.”
The foreign ministers of the U.K., Australia and Canada released a joint statement saying they are “deeply concerned” about the legislation proposed by China.
“Making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary would clearly undermine the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy,” they said.
A former pro-democracy lawmaker, Lee Cheuk-yan, said at a news briefing by opposition parties and activists that Chinese leader Xi Jinping “has torn away the whole pretense of ‘one country, two systems’” and that Beijing is “directly taking control.”
“They’re trying to ban every organization in Hong Kong who dares to speak out against the Communist Party,” he said, describing it as a challenge to global values such as freedom and liberty.
Office worker Tiffany Chung called it ridiculous. “They promised ‘one-country, two-systems, but the content of the security law is basically implementing ‘one country, one system,’” she said.
Beijing appears to have lost patience and is determined to assert greater control in Hong Kong and limit opposition activity following last year’s protests.
Wang Chen, vice chairman of the National People’s Congress, said the aim of the legislation was to stop any behavior that posed potential security threats.
China’s foreign ministry said Hong Kong is China’s internal affair and “no foreign country has the right to intervene.”