Hong Kong Adopts Sweeping Security Laws, Bowing to Beijing

Hong Kong on Tuesday passed national security laws at the behest of Beijing, thwarting decades of public resistance in a move that critics say will strike a lasting blow to the partial autonomy the city had been promised by China.

Hong Kong already had a national security law, one that was imposed directly by China’s Communist Party leaders in 2020, after months of antigovernment demonstrations in the city. That law effectively silenced dissent in Hong Kong, sending opposition figures to jail or into exile.

The new legislation, which was passed with extraordinary speed, grants the authorities even more powers to crack down on opposition to Beijing and the Hong Kong government, establishing penalties — including life imprisonment — for political crimes like treason and insurrection, which are vaguely defined. It also targets offenses like “external interference” and the theft of state secrets, creating potential risks for multinational companies and international groups operating in the Asian financial center.

Analysts say the legislation, which will take effect on March 23, could have a chilling effect on a wide range of people, including entrepreneurs, civil servants, lawyers, diplomats, journalists and academics, raising questions about Hong Kong’s status as an international city.

In the eyes of Beijing, these laws are long overdue.

When Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, it was given a mini-constitution designed to protect civil liberties unknown in mainland China, such as freedom of expression, assembly and the media. But China also insisted on a provision called Article 23, which required Hong Kong to draft a package of internal security laws to replace colonial-era sedition laws.

The first attempts to pass such legislation, in 2003, set off mass protests involving hundreds of thousands of people. Top officials resigned, and in the years that followed, city leaders were reluctant to raise the matter again, for fear of public backlash.

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