China’s ceremonial legislature has endorsed a national security law for Hong Kong that has strained relations with the UK and the US.
The National People’s Congress approved the bill as it wrapped up an annual session held under intensive anti-coronavirus controls.
The Hong Kong security law will alter the territory’s mini-constitution, or Basic Law, to require its government to enforce measures to be decided later by Chinese leaders.
The measure and the way it is being enacted prompted Washington to announce it no longer will treat Hong Kong as autonomous from Beijing.
Activists in Hong Kong have complained the law will undermine civil liberties and might be used to suppress political activity.
The move in Beijing came as three pro-democracy legislators were ejected from Hong Kong’s legislative chamber, disrupting the second day of debate on a bill that would criminalise insulting or abusing the Chinese national anthem.
The legislature’s president, Andrew Leung, suspended the meeting minutes after it began and ejected Eddie Chu for holding up a sarcastic sign about a pro-Beijing legislator that read “Best Chairperson, Starry Lee”.
A second pro-democracy member was ejected for shouting after the meeting resumed, and a third who rushed forward with a large plastic bottle in a cloth bag that spilled its brownish contents on the floor in front of the president’s raised dais.
“We have wanted to use any method to stop this national anthem law getting passed by this legislature, which is basically controlled by the Chinese Communist Party, because the law is just another way of putting pressure on Hong Kong people,” Mr Chu said outside the chamber.
US secretary of state Mike Pompeo notified Congress on Wednesday that the Trump administration no longer regards Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China, setting the stage for the possible withdrawal of the preferential trade and financial status the US accords the former British colony.
Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong, who rose to prominence as a student leader during 2014 pro-democracy demonstrations, applauded the US announcement.
Sanctions or the freezing of Hong Kong’s special economic status would “let Beijing know it is a must to completely withdraw and stop the implementation of the national security law”, Mr Wong said.
Beijing blocked a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the legislation on Wednesday, with China’s UN ambassador Zhang Jun tweeting that Hong Kong is “purely China’s internal affairs”.
China’s foreign ministry said ahead of Mr Pompeo’s announcement that Beijing would take necessary steps to fight back against any “erroneous foreign interference in Hong Kong’s affairs”.
Today, I reported to Congress that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, given facts on the ground. The United States stands with the people of Hong Kong.
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) May 27, 2020
Mr Chu said the Hong Kong legislature’s president had objected to his placard calling Ms Lee an “illegal chairperson” during Wednesday’s first day of debate, so he made a new one that called her the best chairperson instead.
Ms Lee was recently elected chairwoman of a key committee that sent the anthem bill to the full legislature for consideration.
Her election, which the pro-democracy opposition contends was illegal, ended a months-long filibuster that had prevented the committee from acting on the bill and other legislation.
Mr Chu was carried out by security guards, even as fellow pro-democracy legislators protested and tried to stop it.
After the meeting restarted, Ray Chan started yelling as Mr Leung explained his decision to remove Mr Chu, and the legislative president suspended the meeting again and ordered Mr Chan ejected.
Other pro-democracy legislators surrounded Mr Chan, who then hid under a table, as security officers tried to remove him. He eventually was carried out.
A longer suspension followed the ejection of Ted Hui, who kicked the plastic bottle toward the president’s dais after security officers tussled with him and it fell from his hands.
Members left the chamber, security guards sprayed disinfectant and cleaning workers arrived to wipe the carpet. Then a group of firefighters in full protective gear entered and collected evidence. They appeared to take samples from the floor using swabs.
Mr Hui later described the contents as a rotten plant, and said he wanted Mr Leung to feel and smell the rotting of Hong Kong’s civilisation and rule of law, and of the “one country, two systems” framework that democracy activists feel is under attack by China.