China votes to override Hong Kong’s autonomy on national security

The motion passed by a vote of 2,878 to 1

China’s legislature approved a resolution to impose national-security laws on Hong Kong, overriding the territory’s partial autonomy in a bid to crush anti-Beijing protests that have challenged Chinese leader Xi Jinping.

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The vote on Thursday, the end of a weeklong session of Beijing’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress, approved a decision to “establish and enhance the legal framework and enforcement mechanisms for national security” in Hong Kong, state broadcaster China Central Television said.

Some 2,878 lawmakers voted for the motion, with only one dissent. Six others voted to abstain, and one didn’t cast a vote.

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Chinese officials have said the resolution is necessary for safeguarding national security, saying unrest in Hong Kong that started last summer has severely threatened China’s sovereignty. They said Beijing had no choice but to step in to close legislative and enforcement gaps in Hong Kong after the city failed to enact its own legislation against separatist and subversive activities.

Opposition politicians and rights activists in Hong Kong have decried the resolution as a move to undercut the territory’s system of self-governance, known as the “one country, two systems” framework, under which Beijing had pledged to keep Hong Kong’s “capitalist system and way of life” unchanged for 50 years after Britain returned the city to Chinese rule in 1997.

The U.S. and other countries have voiced concern over the move as well. On Wednesday, the State Department said it no longer regarded Hong Kong as enjoying a high degree of autonomy from mainland China.

That declaration paves the way for U.S. measures including ending trade privileges for Hong Kong and imposing sanctions on individuals seen as suppressing civil liberties in the territory.

The resolution approved Thursday authorizes senior lawmakers in Beijing to write legislation to prevent and punish separatist, subversive and terrorist activities in Hong Kong, as well as foreign interference in the city’s affairs, according to the official Xinhua News Agency. The laws would then be promulgated by the city’s leader.

The resolution also allows mainland Chinese state-security agencies to operate officially in Hong Kong, according to Xinhua.

The Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, requires the city to enact its own legislation against secessionist, subversive and other activities that threaten state security. Hong Kong authorities attempted to do so in 2003 but abandoned the effort after half a million people took to the streets in protest. Local officials haven’t put forward any similar bills since.

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The resolution approved Thursday allows Beijing to bypass Hong Kong’s Legislative Council by tapping a provision in the Basic Law that allows China’s legislature to apply national laws to Hong Kong through promulgation by the city’s leader in matters of national unity or security.