China's top lawmakers to discuss Hong Kong security law this week


Beijing (AFP)

China moved closer Thursday to passing a controversial national security law for Hong Kong that has raised international concerns it will end the financial hub's limited freedoms.

China's rubber-stamp parliament endorsed the planned legislation last month as the Communist Party seeks to put an end to a pro-democracy movement that has rocked the semi-autonomous city since last year.

The draft law was submitted on Thursday to the country's top lawmaking body, the Standing Committee of National People's Congress, which meets until Saturday, according to the official Xinhua news agency.

The Group of Seven foreign ministers on Wednesday urged China to reconsider the proposed law, saying they had "grave concerns" it threatenS Hong Kong's rights and freedoms.

In response, senior Chinese foreign policy official Yang Jiechi said at a high-level meeting with the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Hawaii that Beijing's "determination" to introduce the law was "unwavering", according to a statement.

"China resolutely opposes the words and deeds of the US side interfering in Hong Kong affairs and resolutely opposes the statement made by the G7 foreign ministers on Hong Kong-related issues," Yang said

Under a "One Country, Two Systems" agreement before Britain handed the territory back to China, Beijing agreed to let Hong Kong maintain certain liberties and autonomy until 2047 -- including legislative and judicial independence and freedom of speech.

- Stronger language -

The business hub has been convulsed by a year of huge and often violent rallies that began with an eventually aborted criminal extradition bill but morphed into a popular call for democracy and police accountability.

Beijing says the new national security law is needed to end the political unrest and restore stability.

Xinhua said the draft law "clearly outlines" the four acts prohibited by the controversial law -- secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign and external forces to endanger national security -- as well as their criminal penalties.

The wording of the draft appears to have become stronger than the proposal revealed at last month's parliamentary meetings, criminalising "collusion with foreign and external forces" instead of "foreign and external interference in Hong Kong affairs".

According to the draft proposal, the law will also allow mainland security organs to openly establish a presence in Hong Kong, but the scope of their enforcement powers is yet to be revealed.

The city's sole representative to Beijing's top lawmaking body, Tam Yiu-chung, said on Wednesday that the law could allow for extraditions to the mainland -- exactly the topic which triggered last year's protests.

Vice Premier Liu He sought on Thursday to reassure the concerns of the business community, saying that the central government will adhere to One Country, Two Systems and "effectively protect the rights and interests of enterprises and investors in Hong Kong."