• The measure is the next step to limit Hong Kong's semiautonomous status, granted when the former British colony was handed over to Beijing in 1997
  • Sometimes violent protests roiled Hong Kong last year and only died down when the coronavirus began spreading
  • The measure would outlaw "treason, secession, sedition or subversion"

China is planning to clamp down on the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement, preparing legislation to limit activities viewed as secessionist and subversive by Beijing, the South China Morning Post reported Thursday. Opposition leaders see the move as a means of limiting the city’s semiautonomous status granted when China regained control from Great Britain in 1997.

Large scale protests, some violent, roiled Hong Kong much of last year, disrupting the economy and angering Beijing, which alleged the unrest was being fomented by foreigners. The protests died down as the coronavirus pandemic erupted.

Quoting sources, the Post reported a resolution was to be introduced Friday at the National People’s Congress, which opened Thursday, that would ban activities aimed at toppling the government and all external interference in Hong Kong’s affairs, as well as target terrorist activities. A vote is expected May 28 after which a legal framework would be developed by the Standing Committee, next scheduled to meet in late June.

“We will ensure the long-term stability of ‘one country, two systems,’” Wang Yang, who heads the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, told the People’s Congress as it opened.

The move is the latest in a series of actions to tighten Beijing’s control of the city since its handover nearly a quarter-century ago. At the outset, China pledged to allow Hong Kong relative autonomy but that attitude has changed since Xi Jinping took control of the Communist Party. Hong Kong’s government has not enacted its own security law outlawing “treason, secession, sedition or subversion” amid opposition from city residents.

The Post said Beijing believes the inability of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council to adopt a national security law makes it necessary for the People’s Congress to act. Council elections are scheduled for September, and pro-democracy leaders see them as an opportunity to win a majority block that could derail all government-sponsored bills.

“We can no longer allow acts like desecrating national flags or defacing of the national emblem in Hong Kong,” a source told the Post, adding, “The new law will be introduced in Hong Kong through promulgation, without the need for local legislation.”

Zhang Yesui, a diplomat who served as the vice minister of foreign affairs and party committee secretary for the People's Republic of China, told a news conference the bill is aimed at improving “enforcement mechanisms.”

Beijing loyalist Stanley Ng, a Hong Kong deputy to the Peoples Congress, said the protests must be quelled if the city is to survive.

“The social unrest last year showed that the Hong Kong government was unable to handle passing [national security legislation] on its own,” Ng said.