The National People’s Congress voted 2,878 to 1 in favour of the decision to empower its standing committee to draft the legislation, with six abstentions. The legislators gathered in the Great Hall of the People burst into sustained applause when the vote tally was projected onto screens.
The country’s rubber-stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), nearly unanimously approved the resolution Thursday to introduce the sweeping security legislation, which bans secession, subversion of state power, terrorism, foreign intervention and allows mainland China’s state security agencies to operate in the city.
Only one delegate voted against the proposal, while 2,878 voted for and six abstained.
Now approved, the NPC’s standing committee will draft the law — a process that is expected to take about two months. It will then be implemented upon promulgation by the Hong Kong government, bypassing the city’s legislature via a rarely-enacted constitutional backdoor.
The law will drastically broaden Beijing’s power over Hong Kong, which last year was roiled by anti-government protests calling for greater democracy and more autonomy from mainland China.
Before the vote on Thursday, the NPC did not read out the final version of the proposal as it did for the other resolutions passed during the final day of proceedings.
The Chinese government has repeatedly said the law will preserve the city’s rule of law and protecting residents’ legitimate rights. But that has failed to reassure critics. The move has been denounced internationally, with opponents warning it could curtail many of the legal safeguards promised to the city when it was handed from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Following protests in the city Wednesday in which around 300 people were arrested, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that his country would no longer consider the global financial hub as autonomous from China for trade and economic purposes.
In a statement
, Pompeo denounced the law as a “disastrous decision” and “the latest in a series of actions that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms.”
“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” said Pompeo.
Under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act passed last year in support of Hong Kong’s months-long pro-democracy protests, the US government must annually verify to Congress that the city remains autonomous from China, or risks losing its special status with the US.
Hong Kong’s special trade and economic status with the US exempts it from the tariffs and export controls imposed by Washington on mainland China.
It is not immediately clear what repercussions Pompeo’s announcement will bring. Hong Kong has long served as a regional hub for many international businesses, as well as a springboard for Chinese companies to expand internationally.
The US Consulate General in Hong Kong says it represents more than 1,200 US companies doing business there — more than 800 are either regional offices or headquarters.
A congressional aide told CNN
that the certification does not automatically trigger action and the next steps will be determined by US President Donald Trump.
David Stilwell, the top US diplomat in the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said officials were looking at options “across the spectrum,” including visa or economic sanctions.
US experts say the fallout could potentially be much wider, such as bringing an end to the extradition treaty between US and Hong Kong.
The US announcement is likely to infuriate Beijing and further strain relations between the two sides, following disputes over the coronavirus pandemic and a prolonged trade war.
The Chinese government has yet to respond to Pompeo’s statement, which was released after midnight Beijing time. But the country’s foreign ministry earlier vowed to hit back at any “external intervention.”
“The legislation on upholding national security in Hong Kong is purely China’s internal affair that allows no foreign interference,” ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on Wednesday
when asked about a possible strong response from Washington to the law.
“In response to the erroneous practices of external intervention, we will take necessary countermeasures,” Zhao said.
The chief editor of the Global Times, a government-controlled nationalist tabloid, lashed out at Washington on Thursday, accusing it of being “too narcissistic” in thinking that it could “grasp Hong Kong’s fate in its hand.”
According to the Hong Kong government,
the US had a surplus of US$31.1 billion in merchandise trade over Hong Kong in 2018, the single economy with which the US has the highest trade surplus.
“The biggest pillar for Hong Kong to remain an international financial center is its special relations with the huge economy of the Chinese mainland…China’s strength dictates that there must be an international finance center on our coastline, and it will be where the Chinese people want it to be,” Hu said in the Weibo post.
The security law, first unveiled last week
, has reignited anti-government protests in Hong Kong.
Last year’s pro-democracy demonstrations had lost momentum in recent months due to the coronavirus pandemic, but large crowds returned to the streets on Sunday
, followed by sporadic protests on Wednesday
The protests were met with a massive police presence and zero tolerance approach, with pepper spray, tear gas and searches used to quickly contain any potential unrest. Police have arrested more than 500 people since Sunday.
The Hong Kong government and pro-establishment figures have repeatedly sought to allay fears at home and overseas that the national security law could deal a huge blow to the city’s autonomy, independent judiciary, freedoms of speech, the press and assembly.
“99.99% of the Hong Kong population will not be affected, they’ll go about their lives, they continue their investment in Hong Kong,” Cheung said, adding that only terrorists and separatists would be targeted by the law.
But when Cheung was pressed to say more, he was unable to provide specific information about the legislation, calling into question how much say Hong Kong’s officials have over it. He had no answers for whether someone arrested under the law could be taken to mainland China for prosecution, or could the law apply retroactively for prosecutions, citing a lack of details before the drafting starts.
Cheung told CNN that any sanctions imposed on Hong Kong by the Trump administration would stand to hurt the US more, as it enjoys a large trade surplus with Hong Kong. “It’s a double-edged sword,” he said.
“Any sanctions do nobody any good at all. It would hurt Hong Kong but it would doubly hurt the United States.”