China pro­posal could mean tougher crack­down on op­po­si­tion in Hong Kong

Miami Herald - - FRONT PAGE - BY ALICE SU Los An­ge­les Times

Plans by China to im­pose new na­tional se­cu­rity leg­is­la­tion in Hong Kong are likely to in­cite pro­test­ers at a time when Beijing is at­tempt­ing to tighten its grip and stem dis­sent from again ex­plod­ing in the for­mer Bri­tish colony.

“Na­tional se­cu­rity is the bedrock un­der­pin­ning the sta­bil­ity of the coun­try,” said Zhang Ye­sui, a spokesman for China’s Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress, which be­gan its an­nual meet­ing Thurs­day. “Safe­guard­ing na­tional se­cu­rity serves the fun­da­men­tal in­ter­est of all Chi­nese, our Hong Kong com­pa­tri­ots in­cluded.”

The de­ci­sion sent shock­waves through Hong Kong, where past calls for na­tional se­cu­rity leg­is­la­tion were shelved after mass protests. Many fear that new laws passed will sup­press dis­si­dents and en­dan­ger free­dom of speech, de­stroy­ing Hong Kong’s long­time sta­tus as a cul­tural and po­lit­i­cal refuge for those who would be per­se­cuted in China.

Zhang said the Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress, China’s rub­ber-stamp leg­is­la­ture, would ex­er­cise con­sti­tu­tional power to “es­tab­lish and im­prove” a le­gal frame­work for en­forc­ing na­tional se­cu­rity in Hong Kong.

The move could by­pass Hong Kong’s own leg­is­la­ture by al­ter­ing a part of the re­gion’s quasi-con­sti­tu­tion with­out go­ing through usual law­mak­ing process. Such di­rect in­ter­ven­tion might com­pel the United States to de­clare as in­valid “one coun­try, two sys­tems,” the un­der­stand­ing that Hong Kong should re­tain its semi­au­tonomous sta­tus un­til 2047.

Such a prospect would fur­ther ag­gra­vate U.S.China ten­sions, al­ready at a break­ing point over the coron­avirus pan­demic, which the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion blames on Beijing. The two sides have been trad­ing testy ex­changes over each other’s short­com­ings in han­dling the deadly dis­ease.

Zhang said China’s in­ten­tions in Hong Kong were “highly nec­es­sary” in light of “new cir­cum­stances,” al­lud­ing to more than six months of anti-govern­ment protests that rocked the spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion last year.

Chi­nese Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping saw the up­ris­ing as a threat against the the Com­mu­nist Party.

What be­gan as peace­ful re­sis­tance last year to a bill that would have al­lowed ex­tra­di­tion of sus­pected crim­i­nals to main­land China evolved into a city­wide move­ment against po­lice bru­tal­ity and Beijing’s in­flu­ence over the for­mer Bri­tish colony. More than 7,000 peo­ple were ar­rested for in­volve­ment with the protests, in­clud­ing chil­dren as young as 11.

Now, with the world pre­oc­cu­pied by the coron­avirus, Beijing is mov­ing to as­sert con­trol over Hong Kong’s in­sti­tu­tions. In the leg­is­la­ture, pro-Beijing par­lia­men­tar­i­ans took over a leg­isla­tive com­mit­tee on Mon­day by force, after se­cu­rity guards re­moved 15 op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers from the room.

Schools have also been tar­geted. Beijing of­fi­cials are push­ing for re­form to re­place lib­eral stud­ies, which taught crit­i­cal think­ing and which they blame for en­cour­ag­ing stu­dents to protest, with “pa­tri­otic ed­u­ca­tion.”

Many Hong Kongers are look­ing to up­com­ing leg­isla­tive elec­tions in Septem­ber to express their will, as they did in an over­whelm­ing vic­tory for pro-demo­cratic can­di­dates dur­ing dis­trictlevel elec­tions in Novem­ber. But their choices may be lim­ited. Hong Kong has be­gun ar­rest­ing op­po­si­tion law­mak­ers and ac­tivists who par­tic­i­pated in last year’s protests.

What’s left is the streets, where Hong Kong’s po­lice have been em­pow­ered to use force against pro­test­ers after a govern­ment re­port in­ves­ti­gat­ing po­lice con­duct in last year’s protests re­cently vin­di­cated the po­lice.

Hong Kong’s po­lice have also de­nied re­quests for gath­er­ing, cit­ing the need for so­cial dis­tanc­ing due to the coron­avirus. The city’s an­nual June 4 vigil, the only mass com­mem­o­ra­tion of the Tianan­men Square mas­sacres on Chi­nese soil, has been for­bid­den.

Protests have be­gan and are likely to es­ca­late.

This kind of di­rect law­mak­ing is “de­struc­tion” of Hong Kong’s Ba­sic Law, said Jo­hannes Chan, law pro­fes­sor at the Univer­sity of Hong Kong, in an in­ter­view with lo­cal me­dia. “It’s in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult to be­lieve that ‘one coun­try, two sys­tems’ can still ex­ist.”

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