China's rubber-stamp parliament endorsed plans Thursday to impose a national security law on Hong Kong that critics say will destroy the city’s autonomy.
Over 2,800 members of the National People's Congress (NPC) voted overwhelmingly in favour of the proposal to draft the law, which would punish secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and acts that endanger national security.
The announcement of the result was met with sustained and loud applause by delegates.
Only one person opposed the proposal, while six abstained.
The law would be directly imposed by mainland authorities, effectively bypassing Hong Kong’s government.
According to a draft of the proposal released last week, the law would allow mainland security agencies to operate openly in Hong Kong.
The NPC Standing Committee –- which is likely to meet next in June –- will now be tasked with formulating the legislation, which Beijing has said must be done "at an early date".
The plans have prompted condemnation from foreign governments, investors and Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, who say China is eradicating the freedoms it promised the city under its 1997 handover agreement with Britain.
The United States Wednesday revoked its special status for Hong Kong, alleging the city was no longer autonomous from Beijing, paving the way for future sanctions and the removal of trading privileges in the financial hub.
China has made Hong Kong’s national security law a top priority in this year’s annual parliamentary sessions after huge pro-democracy protests rocked the financial hub for seven months last year.
Last week’s announcement that China would impose the new security law triggered further protests in Hong Kong, although a huge police presence prevented massive gatherings.
NPC Standing Committee Vice Chairman Wang Chen said last week that Hong Kong's delays in implementing its own security law had forced the Chinese leadership to take action.
"More than 20 years after Hong Kong's return, however, relevant laws are yet to materialise due to the sabotage and obstruction by those trying to sow trouble in Hong Kong and China at large, as well as external hostile forces," Wang said.
China has not only refused to address protesters' concerns, but also routinely attacked them as "anti-China chaotic forces" secretly backed by Western powers, bent on destroying the city and seeking full independence from the mainland.
Mainland authorities frequently use the national security law to detain activists, journalists and lawyers under the pretext of "state subversion" -- in some cases for several years without trial or access to lawyers.
Several critical details about the law have yet to be clarified -- including how it will define crimes as well as "foreign interference", whether offenders would be tried in Hong Kong or China, whether Hong Kong’s foreign judges will be allowed to decide national security cases, and whether the law would be retroactive.