China ad­vances bill con­demned by rights groups

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - WORLD -

BEI­JING — China’s leg­is­la­ture on Sun­day be­gan re­view­ing a con­tro­ver­sial na­tional se­cu­rity bill for Hong Kong that crit­ics world­wide say will se­verely com­pro­mise hu­man rights in the semi­au­tonomous Chi­nese ter­ri­tory.

The Na­tional Peo­ple’s Congress Stand­ing Com­mit­tee took up the bill at the start of a three­day ses­sion, China’s of­fi­cial Xinhua News Agency re­ported. China has said it is de­ter­mined to en­act the law, and its pas­sage is ex­pected by Tues­day.

The U.S. says it will re­spond by end­ing fa­vor­able trad­ing terms granted to the for­mer Bri­tish colony af­ter it passed to Chi­nese con­trol in 1997. The Se­nate on Thurs­day unan­i­mously ap­proved a bill to im­pose sanc­tions on busi­nesses and in­di­vid­u­als — in­clud­ing the po­lice — that un­der­mine Hong Kong’s au­ton­omy or re­strict free­doms promised to the city’s res­i­dents.

Last week, a for­mer United Na­tions hu­man rights chief and eight for­mer U.N. spe­cial en­voys urged the body’s sec­re­tary­gen­eral to ap­point a spe­cial en­voy on Hong Kong over what they said is a pend­ing “hu­man­i­tar­ian tragedy.” Bri­tain has said it would grant pass­ports to as many as 3 million of Hong Kong’s 7.8 million peo­ple.

Bei­jing has de­nounced all such moves as gross in­ter­fer­ence in its in­ter­nal af­fairs.

The law would crim­i­nal­ize se­ces­sion, sub­ver­sion of state power, ter­ror­ist ac­tiv­i­ties and col­lud­ing with for­eign forces to en­dan­ger na­tional se­cu­rity. The cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Bei­jing also would set up a na­tional se­cu­rity of­fice in Hong Kong to col­lect and an­a­lyze in­tel­li­gence and deal with crim­i­nal cases re­lated to na­tional se­cu­rity.

Few de­tails have been re­leased, but it ap­pears that Bei­jing will have ul­ti­mate power over gov­ern­ment ap­point­ments, fur­ther re­duc­ing the rel­a­tive in­de­pen­dence it promised to Hong Kong in a 1984 joint dec­la­ra­tion with Bri­tain that is con­sid­ered an in­ter­na­tional treaty.

The mea­sures have been widely seen as the most sig­nif­i­cant ero­sion to date of Hong Kong’s Bri­tish­style rule of law and high de­gree of au­ton­omy that China promised Hong Kong would have un­der a “one country, two sys­tems” prin­ci­ple.

China has long de­manded such a law for Hong Kong, but ef­forts were shelved in the face of mas­sive protests in 2003. Bei­jing ap­peared to have lost its pa­tience in the face of wide­spread and of­ten vi­o­lent antigov­ern­ment demon­stra­tions in Hong Kong last year.

On Sun­day, op­po­nents of the bill staged a protest in Hong Kong, with po­lice us­ing pep­per spray and ar­rest­ing 53 peo­ple, ac­cord­ing to Hong Kong broad­caster RTHK.

Vin­cent Yu / As­so­ci­ated Press

Po­lice of­fi­cers stand guard as peo­ple gather for a pro­democ­racy rally in Hong Kong to protest China’s na­tional law that crit­ics say will erode the ter­ri­tory’s high de­gree of au­ton­omy.

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