China to establish bureau in Hong Kong to investigate national security threats
China plans to establish a special bureau in Hong Kong to investigate and prosecute crimes considered threatening to national security, the state-run news agency said Saturday as it reported on details of a controversial new national security law Beijing is imposing on the semi-autonomous territory.
In addition to establishing the national security bureau, bodies in all Hong Kong government departments, from finance to immigration, will be directly answerable to the central government in Beijing, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
The announcement is sure to increase concerns that China’s central government will continue to tighten its grip on Hong Kong. Beijing has said it is determined to press ahead with the national security legislation — which has been strongly criticized as undermining the Asian financial hub’s legal and political institutions — despite heavy criticism from within Hong Kong and abroad.
The details of the proposed national security law emerged as the body that handles most lawmaking for China’s top legislative body — the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress — closed its latest meeting. There was no further word on its fate, Xinhua said.
Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole delegate on the Standing Committee, told Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK that the law was reviewed but no vote had been taken, and that it wasn’t clear when it would be further vetted. The Standing Committee meets every two months.
The bill was submitted Thursday for deliberation, covering four categories of crimes: secession, subversion of state power, local terrorist activities and collaborating with foreign forces to endanger national security.
The bill has received heavy criticism, including from the U.S., which says it would remove some of the special protections extended to Hong Kong after its transfer from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Britain has said it would offer passports and a path to citizenship to as many as 3 million Hong Kong residents. The Group of 7 leading world economies called on China to reconsider its plans, issuing a joint statement voicing “grave concern” over the legislation that is said would breach Beijing’s international commitments as well as the territory’s constitution.
Beijing has repeatedly denounced such moves as interference in its internal affairs.
In its full session last month, the People’s Congress ratified a decision to enact such legislation at the national level after Hong Kong’s own Legislative Council was unable to do so because of strong local opposition. Critics say the law could severely limit free speech and opposition political activity.
China acted following widespread and sometimes violent anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year that Beijing saw as a dangerous campaign to split the territory from the rest of the country. The protests were initially spurred by opposition to proposed legislation that would have allowed criminal suspects to be sent to the mainland for trials in China’s highly opaque legal system, along with possible torture and abuse, according to critics. The extradition bill was eventually scrapped.
China has sought to assuage concerns by saying the new legislation would only target “acts and activities that severely undermine national security,” according to Xinhua.
The legislation is broadly seen as an additional measure further eroding the legal distinctions between Hong Kong and mainland China.
Earlier this month, Hong Kong’s legislature approved a contentious bill making it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem after pro-democracy lawmakers boycotted the vote out of protest.
Senior opposition figures have also been arrested for taking part in demonstrations, and questions have arisen over whether the national security legislation will be used to disqualify pro-democracy candidates in September’s elections for the Beijing-controlled Legislative Council.
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