China passes sweeping national security laws for Hong Kong, further crushing the city’s autonomy

China on Tuesday morning unilaterally passed a new national security law for Hong Kong, a move experts say will further erode the semiautonomous city’s waning freedoms.

According to the South China Morning Post, the law was unanimously approved by 162 members of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, Beijing’s top legislative body.

The outlet said the legislation, which has not yet been made public by China, is expected to carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment for various offenses.

Chinese President Xi Jinping on Tuesday night signed a presidential order meant to bring the law into effect. The Hong Kong government formally adopted the law at 11 p.m. Tuesday.

Xi Jinping

Chinese President Xi Jinping.

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China agreed to draft and force the new legislation on Hong Kong in a largely rubber-stamp vote last month, prompting widespread protests in the territory. The law is expected to ban secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces.

Axios reported earlier this month that in a most extreme scenario, the new law could allow Chinese agents to grab people in Hong Kong and send them to the mainland for interrogation or imprisonment. The outlet said the new law could also allow China’s secretive Ministry of State Security to establish a more official presence in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong formally operates with significant autonomy from the rest of China, an arrangement called “one country, two systems.” But Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland is growing fraught.

Hong Kong operated under British colonial rule for more than 150 years until its sovereignty was passed on to China in 1997. The city was allowed to operate through its own mini-constitution, called the Basic Law, which allows Hong Kong to maintain its own political, legal, and economic systems separate from China until 2047.

The Basic Law calls for the city to enact national security laws to prohibit “treason, secession, sedition,” and “subversion” against the Chinese government. It is referred to as Article 23. Hong Kong has yet to enact the article, however, prompting China to take unilateral action.

China has grown increasingly overbearing in its policies toward Hong Kong in recent years, leading to heightened calls for the city to move toward full democracy. China’s vote on the national security laws reignited protests in Hong Kong last month.

Earlier this month, Hong Kong passed a controversial bill that made insulting China’s national anthem a crime. The bill said anyone who insulted or commercially misused China’s national anthem — March of the Volunteers — would face fines of up to 50,000 Hong Kong dollars — roughly $6,380 — or up to three years in prison.

Schools in Hong Kong have been ordered to display the Chinese flag and sing the Chinese national anthem as the city begins enforcing the law.

A pro-democracy leader, Joshua Wong, tweeted last month that China’s aggressive measures were “retaliation” for months of violent clashes between protesters and police officers spurred by the deeply unpopular extradition-bill proposal last year.

In a tweet on Tuesday, Wong announced that he was stepping down from his pro-democracy group in protest of the national security law’s passage. He said the new law marked the “End of Hong Kong” and the “Beginning of Reign of Terror.”

“If my voice will not be heard soon, I hope that the international community will continue to speak up for Hong Kong and step up concrete efforts to defend our last bit of freedom,” he wrote.

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