China’s parliament has approved a controversial security bill which could threaten Hong Kong’s traditional freedoms.
Beijing says the legislation is aimed at tackling secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.
But the move is expected to trigger violent clashes in the territory and reprisals from the United States.
Defying international pressure and amid fears it foreshadows Beijing’s plans to strip more freedoms from the semi-autonomous city, China‘s National People’s Congress passed the draft national security bill.
The vote overrides the authority of the territory’s Legislative Council, where efforts to push the bill through had been thwarted by public opposition.
Chinese officials will now draft details of the new laws, which it is believed will ban sedition – actions that encourage dissent against China’s authorities.
Riot police had been deployed across Hong Kong in advance of the vote, after disorder on Wednesday that saw police firing pepper pellets at protesters and make 360 arrests.
Thousands of people have taken to the streets in anger over the bill, with demonstrators staying out late into the evening.
They were heard chanting for full democracy and for Hong Kong to seek independence from China, saying this is now “the only way out”.
And it came against the backdrop of escalating threats from the Washington, where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Hong Kong no longer qualified for special treatment under US law, potentially dealing a devastatig blow to its status as a major financial hub.
He told Congress that China’s plan to impose the new legislation was “only the latest in a series of actions that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms”.
“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” he said.
Beijing had unveiled plans last week for national security legislation for Hong Kong that aims to tackle secession, subversion and terrorist activities.
It is expected to see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in the city, which was supposed to have a high degree of autonomy under the terms of its 1997 handover to China by former colonial power Britain.
Chinese authorities and the Beijing-backed government in Hong Kong insisted there is no threat to the city’s high degree of autonomy and the new security law would be tightly focused.
The US and China clashed over Hong Kong at the United Nations on Wednesday after Beijing opposed a request by Washington for the Security Council to meet for discussions about the national security legislation.
The US mission to the United Nations said the issue was “a matter of urgent global concern that implicates international peace and security”, while China said the legislation was an internal matter.