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'The death of Hong Kong' shows emboldened Chinese president will not tolerate trouble

It has been labelled 'the death of Hong Kong', a law to be introduced by the Chinese Government which will give China greater powers to prevent and punish any form of dissent in the autonomous region.

The National Security legislation was announced on the opening day of the delayed annual gathering of the Communist Party in China. It is expected to be rubber stamped next week without any debate or due process in Hong Kong.

It is the most audacious move yet by Beijing, and viewed as a further erosion of Hong Kong autonomy. The handover agreement signed in 1997 was meant to guarantee one country, two systems until 2047. The agreement allows Hong Kong to enjoy freedoms, not permitted on the mainland.

Demonstrations, triggered by an extradition bill, have gripped Hong Kong for the past year, becoming increasingly lawless and violent. Protesters feared the day China would bring in its troops as they resort to force, and now that has come in the form of this legislation.

Police in Hong Kong have been dealing with protests since last year. Credit: PA

The National Security laws give Beijing the legal justification to act directly and quash the protests. It criminalises any act of treason, secession, sedition or subversion of the Chinese People's Government and it seeks to prevent foreign political organisations or bodies from conducting business in Hong Kong.

One of the most ominous parts of the new law will allow Chinese security services to operate on the streets of Hong Kong, establishing a presence in the city.

Pro-democracy lawmakers have been quick to round on the announcement calling it a bleak and sad day for Hong Kong, lamenting dark days are coming. They claim Beijing is treating Hong Kong like an unruly teenager, and demanding obedience.

The lawmakers agree that this announcement by Beijing will, in the short term at least, inflame the protests. There are already gatherings being planned for the weekend and next week when this new law is expected to pass. To make matters worse it is now going to coincide with a bill currently going through the Hong Kong legislative council which seeks to make disrespecting the Chinese national anthem a crime punishable with up to three years in jail.

One of Hong Kong's most prominent pro-democracy campaigners, Joshua Wong, has told ITV News that this is no time to surrender and their fight will go on. He has already been arrested and imprisoned several times for his part in demonstrations, but says he is prepared to do so again to preserve Hong Kong's freedoms.

President Xi has been emboldened by his response to coronavirus. Credit: PA

Reporting of the law in Chinese State Media is quite different. It has been described as an opportunity to put an end to the turmoil, adding an extra layer of protection which will maintain the one country, two systems. An editorial in the Global Times claimed pro-democracy lawmakers have poised the city’s atmosphere and blamed a warped sense of right and wrong for the violence. After returning from Beijing on Friday night, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam held a press conference during which she gave her full support to the law, even though it undermines her authority.

President Xi Jinping, emboldened by his victory over the virus, is seeking to further consolidate his leadership and show Hong Kong that he will no longer tolerate any trouble. The pandemic has presented Xi with the toughest set of economic and political challenges the country has faced since it reformed at the end of the 1970s. Under such pressure, and attack from the United States, in particular, he has moved to shore up his domestic position. He appears to be running out of patience with the one country, two systems and making move to hasten the day he takes full control of Hong Kong.