Hong Kong legislature rapidly passes strict national security bill

Hong Kong's Legislative Council has unanimously passed a national security bill only 11 days after it was submitted. It expands on the Hong Kong National Security Law that was pushed by Beijing and took effect in 2020.

The bill cleared the legislature at a plenary meeting on Tuesday with all members attending.

The new legislation will prohibit acts that endanger national security, including theft of state secrets, espionage and external interference. Violations could bring sentences of up to life imprisonment.

After the approval, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee spoke to the Council members. He called it "a historic moment." He also said national security is protected, and that the legislation will come into effect on Saturday.

Almost all members of the Council are pro-Beijing. They fully backed a rapid enactment of the bill, even working through the weekend toward that goal.

Observers say China's leadership under President Xi Jinping is behind the expedited passing of the bill. Lee cut short his visit to Beijing for the National People's Congress, returning to Hong Kong on March 5, the opening day of the congress. He then immediately began working on the bill.

China's state media reported that Ding Xuexiang, a senior official of the Communist Party and the first-ranked vice premier, instructed a delegation from Hong Kong on March 7 to speed up the process. He was cited as saying that Hong Kong has a Constitutional responsibility to enact the legislation.

Some people have expressed concern, saying the bill's definition of "state secrets" is vague, as well as citing a potentially chilling impact on business, media and other areas.

Observers say the new legislation will allow the government to exercise tighter control over people in Hong Kong.

Western countries are voicing concern that the new law may have a negative impact on people's rights and freedom.

Hong Kong media say the Hong Kong government expedited the enactment to stop the spread of criticism from other countries.

The new legislation had been needed to enforce provisions in Article 23 of Hong Kong's Basic Law, which was enacted in 1997 at the territory's handover to China.

The Hong Kong government attempted to enact similar legislation in 2003, but was forced to retract the plan due to massive protests from citizens, including a demonstration involving some 500,000 people.

But since Hong Kong introduced the National Security Law backed by Beijing in 2020, the authorities have been strictly cracking down on anti-government protests. Almost all members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council are pro-Beijing today due to an electoral system reform.

The government had been eager to enact the law under such circumstances.