BEIJING, Jun 30 (AFP): China passed a sweeping national security law for Hong Kong on Tuesday, a historic move that critics and many western governments fear will smother the finance hub's freedoms and hollow out its autonomy.
The legislation was unanimously approved by China's rubber-stamp parliament and signed by President Xi Jinping, according to the official Xinhua news agency, little more than six weeks after it was first unveiled.
Beijing's Hong Kong office described the security law as a "sword" hanging over the heads of those who endanger national security.
The contents of the law have so far been kept secret from Hong Kong's 7.5 million inhabitants, sparking alarm and anger.
"It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before," prominent democracy campaigner Joshua Wong tweeted as his political party Demosisto announced it was disbanding.
"With sweeping powers and ill-defined law, the city will turn into a #secretpolicestate."
The United States, Britain, the European Union and the United Nations rights watchdog have all voiced fears it could be used to stifle criticism of Beijing, which wields similar laws to crush dissent on the mainland.
The law bypassed Hong Kong's fractious legislature, and it is unclear when it will be published or enacted.
"The fact that Hong Kong people will only come to know what's really in this new law after the fact is more than preposterous," Claudia Mo, an opposition lawmaker, told AFP.
As part of the 1997 handover from Britain, Hong Kong was guaranteed certain freedoms-as well as judicial and legislative autonomy-for 50 years in a deal known as "One Country, Two Systems".
The formula formed the bedrock of the city's transformation into a world-class business hub, bolstered by a reliable judiciary and political freedoms unseen on the mainland.
Critics have long accused Beijing of chipping away at that status, but they describe the new security law as the most brazen move yet.
A summary of the law published by the official state agency Xinhua this month said it would cover subversion, secession, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces.
China's security agencies will also be able to set up shop publicly in the city for the first time.
And Beijing will have jurisdiction over some cases, toppling the legal firewall that has existed between Hong Kong and the mainland's party-controlled courts.
Analysts said that even without knowing details, the security law radically restructures the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong.
"It's a fundamental change that dramatically undermines both the local and international community's confidence towards Hong Kong's "One Country, Two Systems" model and its status as a robust financial centre," Hong Kong political analyst Dixon Sing told AFP.
On the mainland, national security laws are routinely used to jail critics, especially for the vague offence of "subversion".
Beijing and Hong Kong's government reject those allegations.
Meanwhile, Britain on Tuesday voiced fears at China's passing of a new national security law for Hong Kong, and said it would look to see if it broke an agreement between the two countries.
Both Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said they were "deeply concerned" after the legislation was approved by Beijing's rubber-stamp parliament.
"We will be looking at the law very carefully, and we will want to scrutinise it properly to understand whether it is in conflict with the Joint Declaration between the UK and China," Johnson told reporters.
"And we will be setting out our response in due course."
Britain handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997 with a guarantee that it would preserve certain freedoms, as well as judicial and legislative autonomy, for 50 years.
Beijing maintains that the so-called "One Country, Two Systems" deal is still being respected but critics believe the new law threatens civil liberties in the financial hub.
Britain has repeatedly said it is worried about the impact of the law, which comes after protests last year against a proposal to allow extraditions to mainland China.
London has offered to extend visa rights to millions of Hong Kongers if the national security law was pushed through.
Raab again urged China to "step back from the brink, respect the rights of the people of Hong Kong, and... live up to its international obligations through the joint declaration".
He told lawmakers Britain remained committed to fulfilling its promises on visas and "any other action we want to take with international partners".
Johnson was asked whether Beijing's move would have an impact on Britain's decision to allow Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to work on the country's 5G data network.
"I'm not going to get into Sinophobia because I'm not a Sinophobe," he said.
But he added that said there was a need to "strike (a) balance" between protecting critical national infrastructure from "hostile state vendors".
Critics of Huawei's involvement believe some of the company's equipment has vulnerabilities that could be potentially exploited by nefarious state actors and hackers.
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