U.S. reaction was swift Thursday to reports that China’s Parliament will propose legislation to protect security in Hong Kong in response to pro-democracy protests in the territory last year that often turned violent.
“Reports that the CCP [Communist Party of China] will introduce legislation implementing Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law at this week’s National People’s Congress indicate Beijing will begin an unprecedented assault against Hong Kong’s autonomy,” Senators James Risch, Marco Rubio and Cory Gardner of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said in a statement.
Article 23 of the Basic Law says the Hong Kong government shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government. An attempt to implement the article failed in 2003 in the face of large demonstrations.
'Grave concern' to US
“The United States will stand resolute in its support of the Hong Kong people. These developments are of grave concern to the United States and could lead to a significant reassessment on U.S. policy towards Hong Kong,” the senators’ statement added.
“I strongly urge the Chinese Communist Party not to impose additional oppressive legislation disguised as ‘national security’ on Hong Kong,” U.S. Representative Michael McCaul of the House Foreign Affairs Committee said in a statement. “Any law passed by the CCP that further stifles the freedom of the people of Hong Kong would only further erode the foundations of One Country, Two Systems, and will not be tolerated by the United States. We stand with the people of Hong Kong, who are fighting for freedom over oppression, and for democracy over the CCP’s tyranny.”
National People’s Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui announced the plan Thursday at an annual high-level political conference in Beijing.
Zhang said the ceremonial Parliament would consider a measure aimed at “establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard national security.”
Zhang’s announcement seemed to confirm speculation that Beijing would bypass Hong Kong’s own legislature in approving legislation to prevent opposition activity in the territory.
Security laws for Hong Kong have long been considered, but Beijing accelerated efforts to enact them after months of anti-government protests in the former British colony that was handed over to China in 1997.
The legislation could lead to a change in its special status in the U.S. and could trigger more unrest.
Calls for protests began appearing online Thursday night, and dozens of people were seen yelling pro-democracy slogans in a Hong Kong shopping mall as riot police stood nearby.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said this month that he was delaying a report evaluating whether Hong Kong was autonomous enough to justify Washington's special economic treatment that has helped it remain a global financial center. Pompeo said Wednesday that he was “closely watching what’s going on” in the territory.
People in Hong Kong regularly protested the legislation, since withdrawn, that would have allowed criminal suspects to be extradited to mainland China. The protests evolved into a movement that also called for more democratic freedoms.
Zhang’s announcement was made at the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, which began Thursday, as the government touted what it said was a victory over the coronavirus outbreak that started in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The CPPCC session will be followed Friday by the commencement of the National People's Congress, the ceremonial Parliament. Premier Li Keqiang is scheduled to deliver a keynote address outlining economic and social objectives for the year.
It is not publicly known whether Li will give the usual report on economic growth projections for the world’s second-largest economy, which has been devastated by the pandemic.
This year’s meetings of the CPPCC and the National People’s Congress will be shortened from two weeks to one week because of the pandemic.
Supported by a state propaganda campaign, President Xi Jinping has been praised at home for containing the virus, while his handling of the initial outbreak has been questioned by the U.S. and some other countries.