China on Thursday passed a resolution regarding the introduction of a national security law to crack down on what it views as subversive activity in Hong Kong, in a move that will further antagonize pro-democracy protesters and the international community.
The adoption on the last day of the annual parliamentary session came amid growing fears that the law banning separatism, subversion, foreign interference and terrorism in Hong Kong would provide Beijing with more opportunities to erode freedoms and human rights there.
One legislator voted against the resolution, with 2,878 in favor and six abstaining.
Under the "one country, two systems" framework, Hong Kong was promised it would enjoy the rights and freedoms of a semi-autonomous region for 50 years following the former British colony's return to Chinese rule in 1997.
If the law is enforced, even people in Hong Kong who criticize Beijing may be accused of sedition, making a sham of the one country, two systems principle that has also been applied to Taiwan, foreign affairs experts say.
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Legal reforms are "necessary for the continuance of the one country, two systems policy and Hong Kong's long-term stability and prosperity," Chinese Premier Li Keqiang told a press conference after the end of this year's session of the National People's Congress.
A central agency would be set up and operated in Hong Kong, according to the draft resolution.
A bid to enact a national security bill in 2003 failed after an estimated half a million people took to the streets in protest. The Hong Kong government withdrew the bill, and no administration since that time has resumed the legislative process.
In Hong Kong, public anger has been mounting for years over Beijing's apparent endeavor to undermine its freedoms and human rights, especially since Chinese President Xi Jinping came to power in 2012.
Last year, large-scale protests against the mainland government repeatedly erupted in Hong Kong due to Beijing's attempt to put a now-withdrawn controversial extradition law in place, prompting Xi's leadership to craft a security law for the territory.
Over the bill, relations between China and the United States, which has called on the Communist-led government to respect freedoms and human rights in Hong Kong, have been sharply deteriorating.
The U.S. administration of President Donald Trump has pledged to take "powerful" action against China, while Beijing has claimed that Hong Kong is the nation's "internal affairs," lambasting Washington for interfering in the territory's issue.
Li said the world's two major powers should "respect each other's core interests," urging the United States not to be involved in Hong Kong.
As for self-governing, democratic Taiwan, which the mainland regards as a renegade province, Li said Beijing "firmly" opposes the island's independence and external interference.
In Taiwan, concern is lingering that the Communist Party, with Xi at the helm, will try to achieve its cherished goal of reuniting the island with the mainland, by force if needed, pundits say.
Taiwan and mainland China have been ruled separately after they split in the wake of a civil war in 1949. Beijing has since strived to thwart Taipei's quest for international recognition, but Washington has been bolstering ties with Taiwan.
The enactment of the national security law in Hong Kong could see Taiwan taking a tougher stance against the mainland, as Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen, who began her second term earlier this month, has rejected Beijing's one country, two systems principle.
Expectations are rife that tensions between China and the United States would also escalate over the Taiwan issue down the road, with the island getting closer to Washington.
The annual session of the National People's Congress, which was postponed from March 5 against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, kicked off last Friday.
Li's news conference was held at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing via a video call. He received questions from reporters who were tested for the virus in advance and sat 1 meter apart in a different room in the building.
The virus that causes respiratory disease COVID-19 has infected about 83,000 people in the mainland and killed more than 4,600. The number of new infections has been decreasing in China in recent months.