What will life in Hong Kong be like under China’s new security law?

Human rights campaigners say controversial legislation threatens the territory’s autonomy

(Image credit: Chris McGrath/Getty Images)

Hong Kong is facing a fresh wave of street protests after China’s parliament today approved new national security laws that will make it a crime to undermine Beijing’s authority in the territory.

Delegates at China’s National People’s Congress broke into applause after backing the bill by a vote of 2,878 to one, with six abstentions.

But pro-democracy activists had warned that the crackdown could spell “the end of Hong Kong”.

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What do the new laws say?

The legislation is aimed at stamping out the protests that have swept the city over the last year, by banning “any acts or activities” that endanger China’s national security.

Such alleged threats to security “are often used in mainland China to silence dissidents and other political opponents”, says The Guardian.

The BBC says the new Hong Kong laws are expected to criminalise “secession”, meaning breaking away from the country, and “subversion”, defined as “undermining the power or authority of the central government”.

China’s ruling Communist Party is also planning to introduce harsh new punishments for “terrorism”, a charge that critics fear might be levelled against protesters, as well as criminalising “activities by foreign forces that interfere in Hong Kong”.

In addition, the resolution would allow Chinese “national security agencies” - potentially including police, security and intelligence forces - to operate in Hong Kong.

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And the reaction?

Beijing has insisted that the “vast majority of Hong Kong residents would not be affected by the new measures”, says The Guardian.

But opponents claim that the new laws may be used not only to target protesters, but also to permanently undermine the “one country two systems” system that gives Hong Kong autonomy from the Chinese mainland.

These fears triggered street demonstrations across Hong Kong on Sunday, with riot police arresting at least 180 protesters, says the South China Morning Post.

“A water cannon truck was used and volleys of tear gas were fired in a series of confrontations as some radicals among the protesters defying the government’s coronavirus crowd restrictions blocked multiple roads, smashed traffic lights, lit small fires and hurled bricks dug up from pavements at police,” says the news site.

“It is definitely the start of a new but sad chapter for Hong Kong,” said pro-democracy legislator Claudia Mo. “Hong Kong as we knew it is finally dead.”

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has also warned that the developments mean Hong Kong can no longer be thought of as having “a high degree of autonomy” from mainland China.

“While the United States once hoped that free and prosperous Hong Kong would provide a model for authoritarian China, it is now clear that China is modelling Hong Kong after itself,” he said in a statement released on Wednesday.

China’s Foreign Ministry office in Hong Kong dismissed Pompeo’s remarks as “smears and distortion” that “prove the great urgency for the National People’s Congress to decide on enacting national security legislation for Hong Kong”.

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