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Critics say new security laws will infringe on Hong Kong’s autonomy

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Hong Kong’s embattled leader Carrie Lam has tried to reassure rattled residents and international investors that proposed national security laws won’t trample on the city’s rights and freedoms. She has joined the chorus of reassuring support for Beijing’s attempts to find better ways to control the destabilising protests that have disrupted the city for seven months over the past year.

Lam pleaded to concerned residents about the need to wait for the details of the proposed legislation.

The PR offensive follows Beijing’s plans last week for new national security legislation for Hong Kong that aims to “tackle secession, subversion and terrorist activities” and could even see Chinese intelligence agencies set up a presence in the city.

Lam, the 4th and current Chief Executive of Hong Kong since 2017, maintained that China’s plans to impose a new security law on Hong Kong will “only target a handful of lawbreakers”.

Following months of disruptive, often-violent pro-democracy protests in 2019, Beijing says it needs to enact legislation banning “secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference” in the international finance hub.

But many Hong Kong residents, business associations and Western governments have expressed fear the proposal could be a death blow to the city’s treasured freedoms and lifestyle and usher in an end to the semi-autonomous city running its own affairs – the promise made by China when the former British colony was ‘handed back’ to Chinese control after running the trading city from 1842 to 1997, including a formal 99 year lease.

The announcement of Beijing’s plans for the new law, which would bypass Hong Kong’s legislature, sparked a huge drop on the Hong Kong stock exchange last Friday, the biggest in 5 years.

But Carrie Lam, often seen as playing a puppet role for the Chinese government, says fears the city’s “business-friendly freedoms were at risk were totally groundless”.

“The proposed law only targets a handful of law-breakers. It protects the vast majority of law-abiding, peace-loving residents”.

Chinese leadership has portrayed the protests as a “foreign-backed plot to destabilise the motherland” and has justified the new security law as a necessary way to crack down on “terrorism and calls for independence”. But protesters have maintained that their rallies were the only way to voice their opposition in a city with no universal suffrage.

Protesters again took to Hong Kong’s streets last Sunday after the security law announcement but were again dispersed by police armed tear gas and water cannon in the worst clashes in months. They’ve accused Beijing of timing the introduction of the laws during the coronavirus restrictions in Hong Kong to reduce their capacity for unrest sparked by the new legislation.

The proposed laws have drawn international condemnation, including pointed and official criticisms from the UK, US and Australian leaders. The US has even threatened sanctions if the new laws are enacted.

 

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