Hong Kong: Pompeo condemns China’s legislation as ‘death knell’ for freedoms

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Pro-democracy lawmakers march to China's Liaison Office in Hong KongImage copyright Getty Images
Image caption Protesters say China’s new safety legislation would erode Hong Kong’s freedoms

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has condemned China’s plan to impose a brand new safety legislation in Hong Kong, calling it a “death knell” for the town’s freedoms.

China is searching for to move a legislation that will ban “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” in Hong Kong.

Critics say the legislation would strip Hong Kong of the rights it at present enjoys, that aren’t seen in mainland China.

Mr Pompeo mentioned the choice to bypass Hong Kong’s lawmakers ignores “the will of the people”.

“The United States strongly urges Beijing to reconsider its disastrous proposal, abide by its international obligations, and respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties,” Mr Pompeo mentioned in a press release on Friday.

Mr Pompeo’s intervention is prone to infuriate the Chinese authorities, whose relations with the US have been strained lately by disputes over commerce and the coronavirus pandemic.

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Media captionHong Kongers give their response to the controversial nationwide safety legislation being deliberate

A joint assertion from UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and his Australian and Canadian counterparts additionally expressed “deep concern” at China’s proposal.

It mentioned: “Making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary would clearly undermine the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy.”

In Hong Kong, pro-democracy activists have been calling for assist from Western governments after China introduced the legislation. On Friday, campaigners urged mass protests over the weekend.

The legislation was submitted on the annual National People’s Congress (NPC), which largely rubber-stamps selections already taken by the Communist management, however remains to be an important political occasion of the yr.

Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous area and an financial powerhouse, was required to introduce such a legislation after the handover from British management to Chinese rule in 1997. But its unpopularity means it has by no means been carried out – the federal government tried in 2003 however needed to again down after 500,000 folks took to the streets.

Now, after a wave of sustained and sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong final yr, Beijing is making an attempt to push the legislation by way of. The Chinese authorities argues the legislation is important to “prevent, stop and punish” such protests sooner or later.

Hong Kong’s authorities mentioned it might co-operate with Beijing to enact the legislation, including it might not have an effect on the town’s freedoms.

Why is the legislation so controversial?

Hong Kong is what is named a “special administrative region” of China.

It has noticed “one country, two systems” since Britain returned sovereignty in 1997, which has allowed it sure freedoms the remainder of China doesn’t have.

Pro-democracy activists fear that China pushing by way of the legislation might imply “the end of Hong Kong” – that’s, the efficient finish of its autonomy and these freedoms.

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Media captionFormer Hong Kong governor Chris Patten: “UK should tell China this is outrageous”

In his assertion, Mr Pompeo mentioned any determination to impinge on Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms would “inevitably impact our assessment” of the territory’s standing.

The US is at present contemplating whether or not to increase Hong Kong’s preferential buying and selling and funding privileges.

President Trump has additionally weighed in, saying the US would react strongly if it went by way of – with out giving particulars.

What is in Beijing’s proposed legislation?

The “draft decision” – as it’s recognized earlier than approval by the NPC – was defined by Wang Chen, vice-chairman of the Standing Committee of the NPC.

It consists of an introduction and 7 articles. Article four could show essentially the most controversial.

That article says Hong Kong “must improve” nationwide safety, earlier than including: “When needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People’s Government will set up agencies in Hong Kong to fulfil relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law.”

That means China might probably have its personal legislation enforcement companies in Hong Kong, alongside the town’s personal.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption A bunch of pro-democracy activists marched on the Chinese Liaison Office in Hong Kong on Friday

Addressing the congress, Premier Li Keqiang mentioned: “We’ll establish sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security in the two Special Administrative Regions.”

Hong Kong’s chief Carrie Lam, who’s seen as a part of the pro-Beijing political institution, mentioned the legislation would assist authorities sort out criminality within the metropolis.

Security legislation open to very large interpretation

Robin Brant, BBC China Correspondent

China has lengthy desired a brand new nationwide safety legislation for Hong Kong. Beijing believes almost a yr of mass protests and, at instances, paralysing confrontations on the streets exhibits that now it’s wanted greater than ever.

But critics level to what they are saying are ambiguities inherent in such a legislation and the broad, generalist framework it might carry to a spot which has a really totally different authorized custom than the communist-controlled mainland.

“Treason, sedition and subversion” are all open to a really large interpretation. Up to now, the worst cost most arrested protesters have confronted has been for rioting.

The notion of “terrorism” additionally options on this proposed legislation. That too might embody wide-ranging acts and actions that the authoritarian rulers on the mainland think about way more menacing than these in Hong Kong, or for that matter elsewhere.

China might basically place the draft legislation into Annex III of the Basic Law, which covers nationwide legal guidelines that should be carried out in Hong Kong – both by laws, or decree.

The NPC is predicted to vote on the draft legislation on the finish of its annual session, on 28 May.

It will then be forwarded to the NPC’s Standing Committee, China’s high legislature, which is predicted to finalise and enact the legislation by the top of June.

Why is China doing this?

Last yr, Hong Kong was rocked by months of protests sparked by a invoice that will have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

Mr Wang mentioned the safety dangers had develop into “increasingly notable” – a reference to final yr’s protests.

“Considering Hong Kong’s situation at present, efforts must be made at the state-level to establish and improve the legal system and enforcement mechanisms,” he’s quoted as saying in state media.

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Media captionThe id disaster behind Hong Kong’s protests

Beijing may fear September’s elections to Hong Kong’s legislature.

If final yr’s success for pro-democracy events in district elections is repeated, authorities payments might probably be blocked.