Beijing’s rush to quell Hong Kong


The People’s Republic of China never randomly chooses its dates. The decision to make the last step for the approval of the disputed national security law in Hong Hong coincide with the anniversary of the return of the former colony to China is the latest demonstration: the permanent committee of the National Assembly of the People have been summoned to an extraordinary meeting which should lead – from now until Tuesday, the eve of the anniversary – to the approval of the law severely criticized by pro-democracy activists. Usually the committee meets every two months, but the session that opened today is the second in June. The theme is always the same: tighten once and for all on the former colony, considered too rebellious and permeable to “external influences”.

The celebrations for the twenty-third anniversary of the return of the former British colony to Beijing have started from today until July 1st. However, the celebrations will be subdued, given that the police have denied authorization for the traditional March 1st march. Officially, the reason is always the same: the ban on organizing large events due to the pandemic. But the will to avoid the risk of disputes that would embarrass the motherland is clear.

In parallel, hundreds of protesters returned to the streets of Hong Kong today: they marched in silence – reports Reuters – without the usual chants or slogans, parading peacefully in front of the riot police officers armed with shields. Until, in the Mong Kok district, the tension increased until it culminated in the usual way: stinging spray on the demonstrators and dozens of arrests, at least 53.

“By defying all opposition, Beijing will approve the law by June 30,” activist Joshua Wong writes on Twitter. “As the delegate of the Assembly Ip Kwok-him has revealed, the maximum sentence will be increased from 10 years to life imprisonment, heavier than previously expected”. The bill has not yet been made public, but according to Xinhua – the official Beijing agency – the goal is actually to get the go-ahead by the committee by Tuesday.

The Chinese government seems determined to ignore both the appeals of democratic activists and many foreign governments, agreeing that the law would be a lethal blow to the autonomy promised to the former British colony twenty-three years ago with the formula “one country, two systems”. Beijing continues to argue that the provision will only affect a small group of troublemakers pushing for separatism, subversion, terrorism and foreign inferences.

In a tweet Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China’s Global Times, the English-language rib of the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of China, commented: “The national security law in Hong Kong should be approved in a few days and should be applied by force. It will overwhelm the HK Human Rights & Democracy Act, which the United States uses to interfere in Hong Kong affairs. In HK, people who hurt national security have shown that they fear the impending law. It is good news”.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act is a U.S. federal law that from 2019 requires the Washington government to impose sanctions on officials from mainland China and Hong Kong held responsible for human rights violations in the former colony, also requiring the State Department and other agencies to conduct an annual review of changes in Hong Kong’s political status.

Beijing’s acceleration is bound to increase tensions with Washington even further, at a time when relations between the two superpowers are already at a minimum. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has announced restrictions on the granting of visas to Chinese officials, both current and of the past, held responsible for the restrictions on Hong Kong’s autonomy and therefore accused of undermining the Basic Law, the fundamental law that governs the relationship of the former British colony with Beijing after returning to China in 1997. China, through its Embassy in Washington, has already expressed its opposition, reiterating that the new law will consider a “very limited” category of crimes that threaten national security. The meshes of the law, however, are announced as wide and very permeable: there is talk of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. Above all, the uncertainty of the penalties remains, which according to the alarm launched today by Wong would also include life imprisonment.

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