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Shortly after China’s legislature endorsed a national security law for Hong Kong on Thursday, the United States, and governments of Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom issued a joint statement arguing the legislation would “curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties."
The first large-scale protests in months erupted in Hong Kong last week when Chinese officials in Beijing announced plans to consider the bill criminalizing anti-government movements, such as the pro-democracy demonstrations in Hong Kong’s for most of last year before the coronavirus pandemic.
“Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom. The international community has a significant and long-standing stake in Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability,” the joint statement released by the State Department Thursday said. “The proposed law would undermine the One Country, Two Systems framework. It also raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, and undermines existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people.”
China's decision to impose the new national security law on Hong Kong, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions, lies in direct conflict with the United Nations-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration, the statement said. The 1997 agreement handed over Hong Kong, previously a British colony, to Beijing as long as Hong Kong’s people were allowed to retain some liberties not afforded to Chinese citizens.
The new law will alter Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, or Basic Law, to require the territory to enforce measures decided by China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee, a small body controlled by the ruling party that handles most lawmaking.
The National People’s Congress, citing national security, almost unanimously approved the bill Thursday, wrapping up an annual session held under intensive anti-coronavirus controls.
Details will be considered by the Chinese legislature in the weeks to come before the law is expected to go into effect in Hong Kong come September, around the same time as the territory’s scheduled council elections.
“We are also extremely concerned that this action will exacerbate the existing deep divisions in Hong Kong society; the law does nothing to build mutual understanding and foster reconciliation within Hong Kong,” the joint statement said. “Rebuilding trust across Hong Kong society by allowing the people of Hong Kong to enjoy the rights and freedoms they were promised can be the only way back from the tensions and unrest that the territory has seen over the last year.
“The world’s focus on a global pandemic requires enhanced trust in governments and international cooperation. Beijing's unprecedented move risks having the opposite effect.”
The U.S., Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom have called on China to work together with the Hong Kong SAR Government and the people of Hong Kong to find a mutually acceptable accommodation.
On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo officially declared that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, days after Beijing first moved to impose new national security legislation on the territory.
Riot police already were deployed to the streets last week as Hong Kong lawmakers debated a bill criminalizing the Chinese national anthem. On Thursday, three pro-democracy lawmakers were ejected from Hong Kong’s legislative chamber during a debate over a bill.
Last week, thousands took to the streets, and dozens of protesters flooded a shopping mall chanting slogans alleging Chinese interference in their government. More than 360 people were arrested, Reuters reported.