China’s ceremonial legislature has passed a draft of a national security bill for Hong Kong that has been strongly criticised as undermining faith in the semi-autonomous Chinese region’s legal and political institutions.
The National People’s Congress’ Standing Committee reviewed the bill that covers four categories of crime: succession, subversion of state power, local terrorist activities, and collaborating with foreign or external foreign forces to endanger national security.
The congress moved to enact the legislation at the national level after Hong Kong’s own Legislative Council was unable to do so because of strong local opposition.
Critics say it could severely limit free speech and opposition political activity and legal experts say Beijing’s legal justifications are highly debatable.
Officials acted after widespread and sometimes violent anti-government protests in the territory last year that Beijing saw as a dangerous campaign to split Hong Kong from the rest of China.
The US has said that if the law is passed it will revoke some of the special privileges granted to Hong Kong after the former British colony was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997, while the UK has said it will offer passports and a path to citizenship to as many as three million Hong Kong residents.
Beijing has denounced the moves as interference in its sovereign affairs.
On Wednesday, the G7 leading economies called on China to reconsider its plans in a joint statement voicing “grave concern regarding China’s decision to impose a national security law on Hong Kong”, adding that it would breach Beijing’s international commitments as well as the territory’s constitution.
“It would jeopardise the system which has allowed Hong Kong to flourish and made it a success over many years,” they said.
“Open debate, consultation with stakeholders, and respect for protected rights and freedoms in Hong Kong are essential.”
The Asian financial hub’s respected legal system already covers security issues from money laundering to terrorism and cyber crime.
That leaves the proposed legislation to deal with vaguely defined crimes of a political nature along the lines found in mainland China’s Communist Party-dominated system.
Earlier this month, Hong Kong’s legislature approved a contentious bill making it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem after pro-democracy legislators boycotted the vote out of protest.
Senior opposition figures have also been arrested for taking part in demonstrations and questions have arisen over whether the national security legislation will be used to disqualify pro-democracy candidates in September’s elections for the Beijing-controlled Legislative Council.