China en­acted a na­tional se­cu­rity law al­low­ing it to over­ride Hong Kong’s ju­di­cial sys­tem, rais­ing ten­sions.

The Washington Post - - FRONT PAGE - BY EVA DOU AND SHIBANI MAHTANI eva.dou@wash­post.com shibani.mahtani@wash­post.com Lyric Li in Bei­jing con­trib­uted to this re­port.

China on Tues­day adopted a con­tentious na­tional se­cu­rity law that will al­low Bei­jing to over­ride Hong Kong’s ju­di­cial sys­tem and tar­get po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents in the city, strip­ping the ter­ri­tory of au­ton­omy promised un­der the han­dover agree­ment with Bri­tain and rais­ing the prospect of fur­ther re­tal­i­a­tion from Washington.

The move has strained China’s re­la­tions with the United States and other Western na­tions, with Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo say­ing on Fri­day that Washington would place visa re­stric­tions on Chi­nese of­fi­cials re­spon­si­ble for cur­tail­ing free­doms in Hong Kong. On Mon­day, China said it would im­pose re­cip­ro­cal mea­sures on un­spec­i­fied Amer­i­can of­fi­cials, while the Com­merce De­part­ment sus­pended some of Hong Kong’s pref­er­en­tial trade treat­ment un­der U.S. law.

Chi­nese law­mak­ers voted unan­i­mously to push through the law on the eve of the 23rd an­niver­sary of Hong Kong’s han­dover on July 1, 1997, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial Com­mu­nist Par­ty­backed me­dia out­lets in Hong Kong. The date is usu­ally marked by a mas­sive march in Hong Kong, but the city’s po­lice have banned the event this year, cit­ing so­cial dis­tanc­ing rules and the po­ten­tial for vi­o­lence.

Ac­cord­ing to a sum­mary of the law pub­lished ear­lier by the state-run Xin­hua News Agency, the law will es­tab­lish a Com­mis­sion for Safe­guard­ing Na­tional Se­cu­rity in Hong Kong, which an­swers to the cen­tral gov­ern­ment and whose re­mit cov­ers se­ces­sion, sub­ver­sion of state power, ter­ror­ism and col­lu­sion with for­eign forces — charges fre­quently lev­eled against crit­ics of the rul­ing Com­mu­nist Party.

Of­fi­cials in Hong Kong say they have not seen pre­cise de­tails of the law, though the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment has un­der­taken a pro­mo­tional cam­paign urg­ing peo­ple to sup­port it. Asked about the mea­sures at a news con­fer­ence on Tues­day, Chief Ex­ec­u­tive Car­rie Lam said it was not ap­pro­pri­ate to com­ment.

After months of some­timesvi­o­lent protests in Hong Kong against Bei­jing’s en­croach­ment last year, the new se­cu­rity law has height­ened doubts about Hong Kong’s fu­ture as a global fi­nan­cial hub and a re­gional base for in­ter­na­tional com­pa­nies that for years were drawn by the city’s rel­a­tive free­doms. With those free­doms now in rapid re­treat, many Hong Kongers say they are plan­ning to flee the city.

Ac­tivists are brac­ing for arrests of pro-democ­racy fig­ures such as me­dia ty­coon Jimmy Lai, lawyer Martin Lee and young ac­tivist Joshua Wong, all of whom have been tar­geted for years by Bei­jing and de­mo­nized by Chi­nese state me­dia. Other less prom­i­nent fig­ures and those ar­rested over their par­tic­i­pa­tion in pro-democ­racy protests also fear that the sting of the new laws will soon reach them.

“It is a re­ally tough time for us. I hope that next week, I will still be able to answer phone calls from jour­nal­ists,” Wong said in an in­ter­view on Mon­day.

“Now is the time for the world to sup­port Hong Kong peo­ple, and it is only more global pres­sure that can en­sure my per­sonal safety.”

Stu­dent ac­tivists also say their teach­ers have asked them to stop tak­ing in­ter­views with the for­eign press, or en­gag­ing with any ac­tivism once the na­tional se­cu­rity law passes.

“I am afraid. My par­ents have told me that if the na­tional se­cu­rity law has passed, you should move to Tai­wan or some­where else,” said Charis Wong, a founder of Ide­ol­o­gist, a group of pro-democ­racy high school stu­dents. “But we can’t change the fact that the Com­mu­nist Party has al­ready tar­geted us.”

Bei­jing has been press­ing Hong Kong’s politi­cians to en­act such a na­tional se­cu­rity law since the 1997 han­dover, but pre­vi­ous at­tempts by lo­cal of­fi­cials were halted by heavy protests. This time, Bei­jing is go­ing to the ex­tra­or­di­nary step of cir­cum­vent­ing Hong Kong’s law­mak­ers, in­vok­ing a pre­vi­ously dis­used pro­vi­sion in the city’s mini-con­sti­tu­tion.

Vic­tor Gao, a for­mer Chi­nese For­eign Min­istry of­fi­cial who is now a chair pro­fes­sor at China’s Soo­chow Univer­sity, said that the protests in Hong Kong last year prompted Bei­jing to push through the law, after years of wait­ing for the city to en­act it it­self.

“What we’ve seen over the last 12 months,” he said, “is a very dire pro­gres­sion of vi­o­lence in Hong Kong.”

Yun Jiang, di­rec­tor of the Aus­tralia-based China Pol­icy Cen­ter, said that other coun­tries may fol­low the United States in sanc­tion­ing China, though cau­tiously, be­cause of the risk of Chi­nese re­tal­i­a­tion.

“China is un­likely to back down from th­ese types of pres­sures,” she said. “Tar­geted sanc­tions will not, by them­selves, change the stance of the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment to­wards Hong Kong.”

While the law faced strong re­sis­tance from Hong Kong’s peo­ple, it would prob­a­bly have a chilling ef­fect on protest in the longer term, Jiang said.

“At least ini­tially, in­stead of damp­en­ing the pro-democ­racy move­ment, it may have the op­po­site ef­fect,” she said. “How­ever, in the long run, it will likely sti­fle any trend to­wards democ­racy.”

Last year’s protests were sparked by a gov­ern­ment pro­posal to al­low Hong Kong crim­i­nal sus­pects to be ex­tra­dited to main­land China, a step many viewed as a fur­ther ef­fort to erode rule of law in the city and the fire­wall be­tween Hong Kong and the main­land. Bei­jing char­ac­ter­ized the up­ris­ing, which broad­ened to en­com­pass de­mands for democ­racy and po­lice ac­count­abil­ity, as ter­ror­ism fu­eled by for­eign gov­ern­ments.

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son said ear­lier this month that if China passed the law, Lon­don would pro­vide a path to cit­i­zen­ship for mil­lions of res­i­dents of Hong Kong.

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