‘Prevent, stop and punish’: China’s new Hong Kong sedition laws spark backlash

Hong Kong’s stockmarket fell sharply as it opened on Friday. The Hang Seng lost 4.6 per cent as traders waited on more details out of Beijing. The draft legislation, submitted to the National People’s Congress on Friday afternoon, shows the scope of the sweeping measures China has planned to clamp down on dissent in the former British colony.

The draft measures prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People’s Government in Beijing and “prevent, stop and punish” activities that endanger national security. It also reveals plans to establish new national security agencies for the first time in Hong Kong.

“The relevant institutions of the Central People’s Government for safeguarding national security shall establish institutions in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region as required, perform their duties of safeguarding national security according to law,” the draft states.

In a statement, China’s Foreign Ministry said national security underpinned stability and safeguarding national security serves “the fundamental interest of all Chinese people including Hong Kong compatriots”.

The law will override Hong Kong’s own legislature after Beijing grew frustrated at the territory’s failure to pass its own national security laws during last year’s crisis. Protests subsided at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic but have been brewing since Hong Kong mostly got COVID-19 under control in March.

The protests began last year in response to an extradition bill that would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be tried in courts on China’s mainland but once the unpopular legislation had been withdrawn, discontent morphed into wider anger at Beijing’s influence and allegations of police brutality.

The draft accuses protesters of “sabotage and destruction”. The Chinese government maintains the legislation, some of which was proposed more than 20 years ago when Hong Kong was transferred to China, was necessary to return stability.

Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam, who is in Beijing for the National People’s Congress, said it was disappointing that the Hong Kong legislature had been unable to pass its own national security legislation. “The past year the terrorist and violent incidents in Hong Kong are very troublesome,” she said.

A spokesperson for DFAT said Australia had raised its concerns with the Chinese government about Hong Kong’s independence, while affirming the principles of ‘One Country, Two Systems’.

“Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, and are critical to maintaining international and business confidence in Hong Kong.

Australia has a substantial interest in the welfare of Hong Kong, its people and its economy – the city is home to one of our biggest expatriate communities globally and our largest commercial presence in Asia.”

Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said the issue was a matter for China.

“Far be it for me to lecture Beijing on something like that. It is up to them, ultimately. But of course, we want to see the best outcome for the people of Hong Kong,” he said.

Hong Kong opposition MPs accused China of attempting to pass the law without consultation.

“This is the end of Hong Kong, this is the end of ‘One Country, Two Systems,’ make no mistake about it,” said Civic Party politician Dennis Kwok.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told the National People’s Congress on Friday that China would fully implement its policy of “One Country, Two Systems”.

“Under which the people of Hong Kong govern Hong Kong… with a high degree of autonomy for both regions,” he said.

“We will establish sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security in the two special administrative regions, and see that the governments of the two regions fulfil their constitutional responsibilities.”