China's announcement it will bypass Hong Kong's legislature to impose draconian security laws on the city to quell "subversion" and "foreign interference" during the year-long protest movement sparked criticism and concern on Friday from the U.S., U.K., and international rights organizations.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the move would be a "death knell" for the city's promised autonomy.
"The United States condemns the People’s Republic of China (PRC) National People’s Congress proposal to unilaterally and arbitrarily impose national security legislation on Hong Kong," Pompeo said in a statement.
"The decision to bypass Hong Kong’s well-established legislative processes and ignore the will of the people of Hong Kong would be a death knell for the high degree of autonomy Beijing promised for Hong Kong," he said, referring to the legally binding 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which the Chinese Communist Party has said is no more than a "historical document."
“These actions push Hong Kong's autonomy to the breaking point, violating the PRC government's obligations under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, an international treaty,” said Rep. James McGovern and Sen. Marco Rubio, the chair and cochair of the U.S. Congressional-Executive Commission on China,
“We call on the PRC government to reverse its outrageous and unacceptable action and uphold its international obligations to protect Hong Kong's autonomy and the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people,” they said in a statement.
The lawmakers called on the Trump administration to “use the authorities under the Hong Kong Human Rights & Democracy Act … and lead a global coalition to protect both America’s interests and support Hong Kongers.“
The U.S. is currently reviewing Hong Kong's special status as a separate economy and legal jurisdiction under the act. Pompeo said the imposition of national security laws could affect that assessment.
Amnesty International said the proposal was "dangerous."
"China routinely abuses its own national security framework as a pretext to target human rights activists and stamp out all forms of dissent," East and Southeast Asian deputy director Joshua Rosenzweig said in a statement.
"This dangerous proposed law sends the clearest message yet that it is eager to do the same in Hong Kong, and as soon as possible," he said.
"This attempt to bulldoze through repressive security regulations poses a quasi-existential threat to the rule of law in Hong Kong and is an ominous moment for human rights in the city," Rosenzweig said.
China-Hong Kong gap dissolves
He said the people of Hong Kong shouldn't have their rights and freedoms taken away in the name of national security concerns.
His comments were echoed by the Chinese Human Rights Defenders (CHRD) network, which said the imposition of the law would strip away any remaining civil liberties and fundamental freedoms of Hong Kong residents.
"It would erase any existing political separation between the semi-democratic territory and the one-party authoritarian mainland China," the group said.
It said national security legislation has been used to target peaceful dissidents, rights activists, human rights lawyers, journalists, writers, NGO workers, labor organizers, Tibetans, Uyghurs, "or practically anyone who criticizes government policies, the Chinese Communist Party or Xi Jinping and past leaders’ dictatorial rule."
People accused of "endangering national security" are routinely denied access to lawyers or a fair trial, while the definition of what constitutes such endangerment is arbitrarily decided by the authorities, it said.
For example, the authorities have prosecuted individuals for using overseas website servers or giving interviews to foreign media as "providing state secrets to foreign entities," it said.
"This [draconian legal regime] could strip Hong Kong residents of their rights to freedom of expression, assembly, and association, in violation of the city’s mini constitution and international human rights law," the group said.
'One country, two systems' fatal to democracy
In Taiwan, presidential spokesman Alex Huang said the proposals clearly showed that a democracy would never survive an encounter with Chinese rule under "one country, two systems."
"We are closely following and highly concerned about this development, which poses a further threat to freedom and democracy for the people of Hong Kong," Huang said, calling on Beijing to answer growing calls for fully democratic elections in Hong Kong, if it really wished to end the protests.
Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) spokesman Chiu Chui-Cheng said laws should protect people rather than placing shackles on them.
"We believe that encroaching on Hong Kong’s democratic institutions, human rights and freedoms will lead to a rise in public dissatisfaction and social instability, as well as making it riskier for people of all nationalities to be in Hong Kong," Chiu said.
"We hope that the relevant parties will think twice and not let Hong Kong fall into greater chaos because of poor decision-making," he said.
The ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) said Hong Kong's autonomy was dead, while the opposition KMT said the move was in breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
"Taiwan cares about the rights of the people of Hong Kong and their situation, regardless of partisan loyalty," the KMT statement said. "This deterioration in Hong Kong's situation will have a direct and negative impact on the future development of cross-strait relations."
The U.K., Canada and Australia said in a joint statement that they were "deeply concerned" by the proposal.
"Making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary would clearly undermine the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy," the statement said.
It said Hong Kong should be allowed freedom "of the person, of the press, of assembly, of association and others," and that international human rights treaties should remain in force.
Reported by Chung Kuang-cheng for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Jia Ao for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.