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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, Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong’s delegate to the Chinese legislative committee that examined the law, told reporters in Beijing. 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.
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 the 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.”