China says it will rush through anti-sedition law as police fire teargas at protesters
Lily Kuo in Beijing – The Guardian
Beijing has vowed to force controversial national security laws on Hong Kong “without the slightest delay” as police in the semi-autonomous territory fired teargas at protesters demonstrating against the unprecedented decision.
Speaking in Beijing, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, said enacting the proposed anti-sedition law to stop anti-government protests that have persisted for the past year had become a “pressing obligation”.
“We must get it done without the slightest delay,” he said.
Wang said a legislative process to write the details of the law would begin after a proposed decision is approved next week at China’s National People’s Congress (NPC), known as the country’s rubber-stamping parliament where delegates pass already approved policies.
As thousands of protesters in Hong Kong defied social distancing orders and confronted riot police on Sunday, Wang attempted to assuage concerns about how the law could be used against protesters, media and any critics of the government.
“The decision targets a very narrow set of acts that seriously jeopardise national security,” Wang said. “It has no impact on Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents or the legitimate rights, interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong.”
Last Thursday, China’s NPC made the announcement that it would force a law banning subversion, separatism, and acts of foreign interference on Hong Kong – in what critics and legal observers say is one the most blatant violations of the “one, country, two systems” framework since the handover of Hong Kong from UK to Chinese control in 1997.
On Sunday, White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien said the measure could lead to US sanctions. Legislation passed last year by Donald Trump requires the US to sanction officials as undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy. It also requires the US to revoke favourable trade status granted to Hong Kong.
“It looks like, with this national security law, they’re going to basically take over Hong Kong,” O’Brien told NBC. “And if they do… [secretary of state Mike] Pompeo will likely be unable to certify that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy and if that happens there will be sanctions that will be imposed on Hong Kong and China,” he said.
O’Brien said the city’s attractiveness as a business and finance hub would also suffer.
“It’s hard to see how Hong Kong could remain the Asian financial centre that it’s become if China takes over,” he said, adding that global corporations would have no reason to stay.
Last week, Hong Kong’s main stock index dropped 5.6% as details of the looming law were released while countries around the world condemned the decision. The laws, to be directly added into Hong Kong’s de facto constitution without consideration by the local legislature, would allow for Beijing to install “national security agencies” in the city.
On Sunday, the Hong Kong government said that criticism from “foreign politicians” of the decision “smacks of double standards and hypocrisy”. In a statement released late Sunday as police continued to detain demonstrators protesting against the measure, the government said: “The vast majority of law-abiding Hong Kong residents, including overseas investors, have nothing to fear.”
In response to questions about investor confidence in the Asian financial hub, Chinese foreign minister Wang said: “Instead of becoming more worried, people should have more confidence in the future of Hong Kong.”
Wang said the laws “will improve Hong Kong’s legal system, bring more stability, stronger rule of a law and a better business environment”.
Beijing’s decision has further worsened US-China ties, already at record lows as Washington claims China is to blame for the coronavirus pandemic.
Describing the national security laws as a “death knell” for Hong Kong’s autonomy and political freedoms, the US has threatened to revoke the territory’s special economic and trade status. On Sunday Wang said: “It is unfortunate a political virus is also spreading in the US, jumping at any opportunity to attack and slander China. There are those in the US pushing the two sides to the brink of a new cold war.
“It is time for the US to give up its wishful thinking of changing China or stopping 1.4 billion people’s historical march toward modernisation.” Wang said China would “emerge stronger, more confident … in our nation’s unstoppable march to rejuvenation.”