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China Plans To Criminalize Activities Advocating For Hong Kong's Independence


China signaled today it plans to tighten its grip on Hong Kong. China's legislature said it's discussing plans to draft national security laws that would punish seditious and secessionist behavior in the city - the most aggressive move yet. NPR's Emily Feng is in Beijing and joins us now.

Hi, Emily.


SHAPIRO: Tell us more about this national security law. If passed, what would it do?

FENG: It would criminalize behavior seen as critical towards Beijing as well as any activity seen as advocating for, say, Hong Kong independence or greater autonomy. And some background about Hong Kong - it's considered this semi-autonomous region under a principle that China calls one country, two systems, which is this idea that although Hong Kong is part of China, it gets to enjoy certain independent administrative functions - rule of law, its own judiciary - at least for the first 50 years under Chinese rule, which would end around 2047.

But there have been mass protests in the city, including those from last year, because citizens there have felt that China has been deliberately eroding this principle of one country, two systems despite it not yet being 2047. Some pro-Beijing lawmakers actually tried to pass a similar national security law back in 2003 that failed because of mass protests, but this year Beijing feels emboldened to try again.

SHAPIRO: The protests seem to have subsided, so why is Beijing looking to propose such a law now?

FENG: Well, this week is something called Two Sessions in Beijing. It's this annual gathering of China's top lawmakers and advisers, and it's when major legislation like this gets proposed and passed. There are still protests going on in Hong Kong. They're expected to pick up again as the coronavirus ebbs there. But this legislation really is the capstone of this long-running systemic muzzling of Hong Kong's veteran activists, pro-democracy lawmakers and its legal institutions.

SHAPIRO: What's the likelihood that the law will pass?

FENG: It's almost 100%. China's legislature is more of a rubber stamp body in the sense that it passes basically everything it's presented with. But what's being discussed this week is not a final draft law. It's simply a resolution that, when passed, would then empower a smaller group of influential lawmakers in Beijing to draft and publish a final national security law. That would take immediate effect in Hong Kong because of an obscure annex in Hong Kong's own constitution. And in doing so, China can bypass Hong Kong's own legislature, where Beijing fears pro-democracy lawmakers could block such a bill. If passed, though, this national security law will cause irreparable damage to Hong Kong's rule of law, and it ends, in practice, one country, two systems well before the first 50 years are up.

SHAPIRO: Does Hong Kong have any recourse, any way of pushing back?

FENG: No, they don't. There will certainly be huge protests in the city. July 1 is the anniversary of Hong Kong's handover back to China, which happened in 1997, so expect huge protests then. But Beijing will not be stopped on this matter. And, in fact, big protests will only strengthen the conviction in Beijing that they need such a national security law.

SHAPIRO: That is NPR's Emily Feng in Beijing. Thank you very much.

FENG: Thank you, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Emily Feng is NPR's Beijing correspondent.