China may pass bill to crack down on Hong Kong opposition

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A Chinese paramilitary policeman wearing a mask to curb the spread of the new coronavirus stands guard as delegates attending the opening session of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) arrive on buses in front of the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, Thursday, May 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

BEIJING – China’s ceremonial parliament will consider a bill that could limit opposition activity in Hong Kong, a spokesperson said Thursday, appearing to confirm speculation that China will sidestep the semi-autonomous territory’s own lawmaking body in enacting legislation to crack down on activity Beijing considers subversive.

Zhang Yesui said the National People’s Congress will deliberate a bill on “establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard national security.”

Such a move has long been under consideration but was hastened by months of anti-government protests last year in the former British colony that was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997. Such legislation was last proposed in 2003 under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, bringing hundreds of thousands of the territory's citizens out in protest.

The proposal was withdrawn by the government but Beijing has increasingly pushed for measures such as punishment for disrespecting the Chinese national flag and anthem and increased pro-China patriotic-themed education in schools. Opposition in Hong Kong's Legislative Council, however, made it unlikely such a bill could pass at the local level.

The new measures are required by the “new situation and demands" and action at the national level is “entirely necessary," Zhang said.

Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post newspaper said a draft resolution would be brought before the National People's Congress on Friday afternoon and voted on at the end of its session on May 28. The congress’ standing committee that handles most actual legislation will then consider the details of the measure, the newspaper said.

A vote at the NPC will add to concerns in Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp that Beijing is chipping away at the territory's rights to assembly and free speech that greatly exceed those permitted by the ruling Communist Party in mainland China.

The decision to circumvent Hong Kong's Legislative Council to enact the security legislation is an “unprecedented and highly controversial intervention," Johnny Patterson, director of the non-governmental organization Hong Kong Watch, said in a statement.