China’s legislature nearly unanimously approved plans on Thursday to go forward with drafting strict national security legislation to take over Hong Kong.
The details of the national security plan are still being drafted, but the effort is already backed by widespread support, The New York Times reported. The degree of which legislators actually impose control measures will likely determine the future of the city’s autonomous status from the mainland. Some signs are already pointing to a likely crackdown on the city in September when the details are eventually finalized.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam already appeared to hint at a potential crackdown’s effect on freedoms in the city during a press conference this week.
“We are a very free society, so for the time being, people have the freedom to say whatever they want to say,” Lam said during a press conference.
Lam also said that “rights and freedoms are not absolute.”
Further hints at the extent of the legislation may be found in a 2003 attempt by mainland China to impose national security measures over the city, which were effectively opposed by protesters. Another hint at the proposed legislation could be found in the national security laws successfully passed over Macau, another semiautonomous territory. Both the 2003 proposal and the legislation that take effect over Macau gave law enforcement enhanced powers and set them to administer broadly defined bans on “sedition,” “subversion,” “succession” and “terrorism.”
President Donald Trump is reportedly weighing a response against China, depending on what national security laws may be extended to the city. On Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reported to Congress that he was officially decertifying Hong Kong’s autonomous status, indicating the U.S. would no longer treat the city as a separate entity from mainland China. Other Trump administration officials have hinted at economic sanctions on the city, raising the risk that China’s national security laws could jeopardize Hong Kong’s status as a financial hub.
The Washington Examiner reported the Trump administration is weighing options for a more targeted approach to punitive sanctions. Sanctions might be used to target specific individual Chinese communist officials, as opposed to broader sanctions over the entire city.
“The actions will be considered, and they will be as targeted as possible to change behavior,” said David Stilwell, head of the East Asian and Pacific Affairs Bureau at the State Department. “It could be across the spectrum. It could be personnel, it can be visa sanctions … but to preview those, I certainly wouldn’t want to get ahead of the White House on this one.”
Stilwell indicated the Trump administration is balancing the desire to not adversely affect the people of Hong Kong with the view that the city does not warrant special economic treatment if it loses its autonomy to mainland China.
“We will do our best to make ensure the people of Hong Kong are not adversely affected, to the best we can,” Stilwell said. “So, our approach is to mitigate the impact, globally, on the Hong Kong people, while at the same time helping Beijing understand our concerns.”