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Beijing draws the line with Hong Kong

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The Chinese government has emerged from the first wave of the COVID-19 outbreak confident and ready to assert itself ever more vigorously at home and abroad. There is no sign of self-doubt or concern about its role in creating the worst crisis the world has faced in generations. The decision to convene the National People’s Congress (NPC), the annual meeting of parliament that was delayed two months because of the coronavirus, is one sign of Beijing’s confidence.

Even more revealing is the decision by the NPC to adopt new national security legislation for Hong Kong, a bill that bypasses the city’s legislature and eviscerates the concept of “one country, two systems” that was designed to safeguard its independence upon its return to the mainland.

Sadly, the move is unlikely to generate more than warnings of dire consequences — which will never materialize. China’s ruling Communist Party has taken the measure of the world and found it wanting, unwilling and thus unable to challenge actions that Beijing considers necessary to safeguard its interests.

When Hong Kong was returned to the mainland in 1997, Beijing agreed to the “one country, two systems” formula that gave the Special Administration Region — the official term for the city, a name that suggests a distinctive status — a high degree of autonomy. Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the legal framework that codified that arrangement, provided political freedoms for citizens that few in the mainland dared dream of possessing. The Basic Law, however, also stipulated that the Hong Kong legislature would pass a law that prohibits subversion, secession and foreign influence in the territory. It failed to do so, and Beijing, having given up hope of any action, decided to act on its own.

Hong Kong’s inaction is not for lack of trying. An attempt to pass legislation in 2003 triggered mass protests and the eventual resignation of Hong Kong’s first chief executive. Legislators have since urged the local........

© The Japan Times