The National People’s Congress — the most important event in the Chinese political calendar — will deliberate a bill on “establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms” for Hong Kong in order to “safeguard national security,” spokesperson Zhang Yesui told the Xinhua news agency.
Zhang’s comments appeared to confirm speculation that China will sidestep the territory’s own legislative body in enacting legislation to crack down on activity Beijing considers subversive.
China’s hawkish Global Times newspaper tweeted that the proposed legislation was for the “safeguarding of national security” in Hong Kong.
Such a move has long been under consideration but was hastened by months of protests last year in the former British colony that was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997 and governed by a unique model aimed at guaranteeing freedoms not granted in mainland China.
Protesters took to the streets every Sunday for months, although others took place on weekdays too, growing increasingly violent as the weeks went on.
The demonstrations were sparked by a controversial bill that would have allowed residents to be extradited to China. Although the bill was shelved, the demonstrations transformed into a wider movement against the erosion of civil liberties that were promised after the city was handed over to China in 1997.
Zhang’s comments at a news conference came on the eve of the opening of the the 3,000-member National People’s Congress, China’s largely ceremonial legislature, after a two-month delay because of the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s meeting of the two bodies is being shortened to one week from the usual two as part of virus-control measures. Media access has been largely reduced and only a limited number of reporters, diplomats and observers were permitted into the meeting hall.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has been criticized for his handling of the outbreak by some countries including the U.S.
The Trump administration issued a 20-page report Wednesday attacking what it called Beijing’s predatory economic policies, military buildup, disinformation campaigns and human rights violations.
Leou Chen reported from Beijing, and Henry Austin reported from London.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.