HONG KONG • China’s top agencies overseeing Hong Kong have gathered pro-Beijing supporters to discuss looming national security legislation, the latest sign that Beijing is nearing enactment of the controversial law despite widespread criticism that it will erode freedom in the city.
The Chinese authorities held meetings on Tuesday with 120 representatives from Hong Kong’s various sectors – including business, politics and labour – to discuss the legislation, the Chinese government’s Liaison Office in the city said in a statement late on Tuesday.
All attendees supported the law and most participants expressed their hopes that it be enacted as soon as possible, it added.
Tuesday’s gatherings featured a host of high-level mainland officials, including deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Zhang Xiaoming, Liaison Office director Luo Huining and legislative affairs commission vice-chairman Zhang Yong.
It is the latest in a growing drumbeat of reports from the Chinese authorities and state media portraying the semi-autonomous city as being united in support of the national security law for Hong Kong, despite the absence of a formal consultation and a poll showing a significant number of residents opposing the legislation.
Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam has also defended the national security Bill along with others in her administration.
The legislation, which would give the authorities powers to suppress subversion, sedition, secession and collusion with foreign forces, could be implemented as early as next week.
The schedule of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s highest legislative body, sets up the possibility that law could be handed down in time for the July 1 anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule from Britain.
Such timing would serve as pointed pushback against the city’s protest movement, since pro-democracy activists usually hold their biggest march of the year on July 1. Last year, a group of radicals broke into and ransacked the Legislative Council chamber on that date.
Beijing has been criticised by opposition politicians in Hong Kong, as well as foreign governments including the United States, for moving to impose the legislation on Hong Kong without debate in the local legislature.
Beijing’s announcement last month that it would bypass Hong Kong’s usual policymaking process and push the legislation through has alarmed many residents who say China’s move violates the “one country, two systems” principle that guarantees the city a “high degree of autonomy” until at least 2047.
Although Hong Kong is constitutionally mandated to implement national security legislation on its own, successive governments have failed to do so after an attempt in 2003 sparked mass protests.
The Legislative Council, which is dominated by pro-establishment politicians, normally holds multiple debates over proposed laws, allowing both pro-government and opposition politicians to voice their views over months or years. The national anthem law, which was only recently passed after stiff opposition, was similarly pushed onto Hong Kong by Beijing in 2017.