BEIJING: China moved Friday to quash Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement by unveiling plans for a new security law at the start of its annual parliamentary session that also laid bare the “immense” economic challenges caused by the coronavirus, reports AFP.
The 3,000-member National People’s Congress (NPC) began with a minute of silence for China’s victims of the coronavirus before Premier Li Keqiang delivered his annual version of the US president’s “state of the union” address.“At present, the epidemic has not yet come to an end, while the tasks we face in promoting development are immense,” Li told mask-wearing delegates in Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People, while also touting China’s success in suppressing the contagion.
The pandemic forced Beijing to delay its annual parliament by two months and reduce its length to a week.
Citing “great uncertainty” ahead, Li took the rare move of refraining from announcing a 2020 growth target for China’s pandemic-battered economy, offering only a vague promise to address mounting joblessness and to improve living standards.
- Hong Kong under siege -
The most controversial move at the NPC opening was the introduction of a proposal to impose a security law in Hong Kong — immediately denounced by the US and pro-democracy figures in the financial hub who called it a death sentence for the territory’s unique freedoms.
The draft proposal will “guard against, stop and punish any separatism, subversion of the national regime, terrorist group activities and such behaviours that seriously harm national security”.The motion, which goes to a vote in the rubber-stamp legislature on Thursday, would authorise Chinese lawmakers to directly enact long-delayed Hong Kong security legislation itself at a future date, rather than leaving it up to the territory’s administration.
China made clear it wanted the law passed after Hong Kong was rocked by seven months of massive and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests last year.
City leader Carrie Lam, who is attending the NPC, vowed to “fully cooperate” with Beijing over the national security proposal and complete the legislation “as soon as possible”.
Lam said national security laws to be drafted later by the NPC seek “to punish ‘Hong Kong independence’ and violent political elements that seriously harm national security”.
An initial bid to enact such legislation in 2003 was shelved after half a million people took to the streets in protest.
Wang Chen, deputy chairman of the NPC Standing Committee, told delegates Beijing must “take powerful measures to lawfully prevent, stop and punish” anti-China forces in Hong Kong.