(Update 1: Adds confirmation from Beijing, re-leads, adds quotes, sources)
Beijing, May 21 (efe-epa).- China on Thursday said it would debate a national security law for Hong Kong during the annual National People’s Congress this week following months of protests in the semi-autonomous territory.
Speaking to the press on the eve of the annual parliamentary meeting in Beijing, NPC spokesperson Zhang Yesui said members would discuss a bill proposed by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress to establish the “legal system and enforcement mechanisms” in Hong Kong.
He said the proposal was needed to “safeguard national security” and defend the notion of one country, two systems.
“National security is the base that underpins the stability of the country. Safeguarding it serves the fundamental interests of all Chinese people, our Hong Kong compatriots included.”
The announcement came just hours after the South China Morning Post newspaper quoted anonymous mainland sources as saying that Beijing was preparing to draft a national security law that would illegalize sedition and subversion in special-status Chinese territory.
The sources said the law would also ban foreign interference and any attempts to overthrow the central government.
The move comes as China’s top brass gather in Beijing for the so-called Two Sessions — the NPC, which brings together almost 3,000 lawmakers to pass a raft of legislation, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), which brings together figures from several sectors of society.
The sources said Beijing had lost patience with the Hong Kong regional government and parliament’s inability to approve its own national security law in accordance with the Basic Law, which underpins the mini-constitution in the semi-autonomous region.
Discussions on the semi-autonomous territory come after months of mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong sparked when its regional leaders proposed a new — and now retracted — extradition law that critics said would allow mainland China to target dissidents.
Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that the Hong Kong government must draw up its own laws to proscribe acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion of the central government.
However, Hong Kong has gone without a national security law on such activities since it returned to Chinese sovereignty after a century and a half of British colonial rule in 1997.
An attempt in 2003 was shelved when hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers came out to protest against it, saying it infringed on their freedoms.
The move from China comes ahead of parliamentary elections in Hong Kong slated for September in which the opposition hopes to gain a historic majority in order to block proposals from the Beijing-friendly government currently in charge.
According to several Hong Kong media outlets, a draft will be presented to Hong Kong delegates at the NPC, which is controlled by the Communist Party of China, and then as a resolution on Friday.
The voting session of the NPC is expected to take place on 28 May, after which resolutions are to be sent to the permanent committee for final approval, set to meet in June. EFE