China’s political congress has the West concerned over Hong Kong’s autonomy

By Helene Fung

Thousands of political delegates are currently in Beijing for the National People’s Congress, an annual Chinese political congress – which this year had been delayed for two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Congress is expected to set the economic agenda for China for the year ahead; but it was news about another item on the agenda which captured world-wide attention.

On Friday morning, a proposal had been introduced at the congress to pass national security laws into Hong Kong indirectly, banning activities deemed to be secession, subversion and terrorism. The proposal was understood to be further discussed in a Saturday morning session involving the state leader in charge of Hong Kong affairs, plus about a hundred relevant delegates.

The foreign ministers of the UK, Canada and Australia issued a joint statement on Friday, and expressed concerns over the action of the political congress passing laws into Hong Kong: “making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary would clearly undermine the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy.”

A Joint Declaration signed by China and the UK back in 1984 afforded Hong Kong “a high degree of autonomy”, as well as a variety of rights and freedoms, after 1997.

The European Union’s diplomatic chief Josep Borrell also issued a statement calling for “the preservation of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also warned in a statement that should Beijing opt to bypass Hong Kong’s own legislative process, this may be sufficient cause for the US to decline to certify Hong Kong as autonomous under a new US law, which would lead to Hong Kong losing its preferential trading status with the world’s largest economy.

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