Hong Kong Activists Urge Protests Against New China Security Law

Democracy advocates called for protests against sweeping national security legislation China introduced Friday, as authorities in Beijing vowed to end what they called a “defenseless” posture due to “those trying to sow trouble.”

Legislation slated for passage in the National People’s Congress in Beijing would help complete Hong Kong’s obligation to pass laws curbing acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion, NPC Vice Chairman Wang Chen told lawmakers Friday. The measure would also seek to counter terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong, Wang said.

The announcement on national security legislation prompted calls for protests and a spike in Hong Kong residents downloading VPN software that helps mask internet usage. U.S. President Donald Trump, when asked about China’s moves, pledged he would respond “very strongly.”

Pro-democracy lawmakers planned to march to the Chinese government’s Liaison Office in Hong Kong to express opposition to the measure, which was expected pass the rubber-stamp parliament by May 28. Activists urged additional protests against Beijing-backed legislation, including a bill that would criminalize disrespecting China’s national anthem, on Sunday and Wednesday.

Civil Human Rights Front convenor Jimmy Sham, whose group organized historic marches last year that turned out hundreds of thousands of protesters, told reporters he expected to call another huge rally. He didn’t disclose further details.

The Hong Kong government would be required to implement the legislation “as soon as possible,” Wang said. The bill would allow for the establishment of entities to enforce its provisions. It would also affirm Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s obligation to administer national security education in the special administrative region and require her to submit regular reports.

For more on China’s legislative session:
  • China Will Improve Hong Kong’s Security Laws, Premier Li Says
  • China Abandons Hard Growth Target, Shifts Stimulus Focus to Jobs
  • China Sees Slowest Defense Budget Growth Since at Least 1991
  • Hong Kong Traders Brace for Renewed Turmoil on Security Law Risk

“The increasingly notable national security risks in the HKSAR have become a prominent problem,” Xinhua said, citing the document. “Law-based and forceful measures must be taken to prevent, stop and punish such activities.”

Hong Kong’s stocks headed for their worst loss since the global financial crisis Friday. The MSCI Hong Kong Index fell as much as 6.6%, which would be its biggest slump on a closing basis since October 2008.

Hong Kong Stocks Sink Most Since 2008 on Security Law Concern

Earlier, Premier Li Keqiang pledged to “establish sound legal systems and enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security” in Hong Kong and in the neighboring region of Macau.

Although Hong Kong is constitutionally required to pass national security laws by Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, successive governments have failed to pass them — with one effort in 2003 resulting in widespread street demonstrations. This new legal strategy could potentially allow authorities to skip the local legislative process, although the mechanics of how that would work remained unclear.

The move sets up a potential election-year showdown with Trump, who has come under pressure in Washington to reconsider the special trading status before the city’s return to Chinese rule under a promise to maintain its liberal financial and political structure. On Thursday, Trump warned that the U.S. would respond to any move to curtail protests and democratic movements in Hong Kong.

The legislation would still require several procedural steps including approval by the NPC’s decision-making Standing Committee, which could come as early as next month, the South China Morning Post reported. The move comes before citywide elections in September in which opposition members hoped to gain an unprecedented majority of the Legislative Council.

After Virus Lull, What’s Next in Hong Kong’s Protests: QuickTake

Danny Gittings, an academic who wrote the “Introduction to the Hong Kong Basic Law,” said a chief executive could only implement such laws by proclamation if the wording is identical to the Chinese national law. The anthem measure, which was similarly imposed in 2017, still hasn’t been passed by the Legislative Council.

“Even if it’s not a law enforceable in Hong Kong, it could still have a strong symbolic impact,” Gittings said.

— With assistance by Dandan Li, Karen Leigh, and Sofia Horta e Costa

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Hong Kong Set for Deeper Economic Slump as Companies Shed Jobs

Hong Kong is on course for a recession potentially worse than the Asian financial crisis of the 1990s, with the trade-dependent city expected to reveal Monday that the slump deepened markedly in the first quarter.

Economists forecast a drop in output of 6.5% in the three months to March from the same period a year earlier. On Sunday, Financial Secretary Paul Chan warned of the worst full-year performance on record with a contraction of as much as 7%.

Even as the city prepares to ease some social distancing measures amid a steady improvement in the local outbreak situation, the hit to global commerce and the threat of renewed anti-government unrest means activity is likely to remain depressed. Unemployment is rising with tourism, retail, transport and other industries decimated.

“Faced with a collapse in global demand, Hong Kong’s small, open economy is taking a severe hit,” said Qian Wan, economist with Bloomberg Intelligence, in an April 28 note ahead of the results. “The trade- and service-oriented economy will suffer a major drag from the global downturn.”

The city’s economy fell a record 8.3% in the third quarter of 1998 and contracted 7.8% in the first quarter of 2009, the two worst quarterly readings for the measure in year-over-year data going back to 1974, according to the Census and Statistics Department Hong Kong.

Chan, the city’s top economic policy official, signaled that the reading for the first quarter this year could be even worse. The city’s economy already contracted in the second half of last year amid violent street protests and a government crackdown.

The extended downturn’s impact can be especially seen across the city’s struggling small and medium-sized businesses, which have borne the brunt of the impact from protests since last year and now the coronavirus.

“Hong Kong has been a risk-taking society relative to starting a business, but the situation going on the last year will create long memories in people’s minds,” said Todd Handcock, chairman of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. “It’s been a very challenging year for SMEs in Hong Kong. The unfortunate reality is some of these will not survive and others will struggle for a very long time.”

As of December, 340,000 SMEs accounted for more than 98% of all business units and employed some 1.3 million people or about 45% of the total excluding civil service, according to government data.

Sentiment among small businesses is sitting near a record low while those reporting need for credit have jumped to an almost four-year high of 8.8%, March government data show.

“If we all fold, the unemployment levels are going to skyrocket in this city,” said Bella Dobie, co-founder and managing director of Hong Kong branding and marketing firm Orijen. The firm has six full-time staff including Dobie and has been in business since 2000. “The economy of Hong Kong has been struggling since the start of the protests and Covid-19 is just a double whammy.”

The government has taken steps to address the looming employment crisis through multiple rounds of stimulus spending, most prominently through an HK$80 billion wage subsidy program that is not expected to begin distribution until June.

Those businesses that do survive will likely emerge with smaller, leaner operations, with lasting implications on the wider economy as jobs that once existed may not return. Total employment in the city shrank by a record 3.6% in March.

As of December, the number of job vacancies in the private sector of Hong Kong totaled about 54,000, down 30% from a year ago, according to government data. Vacancies in retail and accommodation and food services plummeted 44% and 65% respectively.

The looming threat of returning protests once the virus fades and measures forbidding group gatherings ease could also further extend the pain for businesses and the economy.

“The Covid-19 impact could be longer lasting than expected globally and the local civil unrest could intensify again, both of which will impose major downside risks to Hong Kong’s economic growth,” said Tommy Wu, senior economist with Oxford Economics in Hong Kong. “The economy will continue to be battered by rising unemployment and business closures in Q2 onwards,” he said.

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Hong Kong Police Disperse Protesters Gathered at City Mall

Hong Kong police dispersed more than 100 protesters who had congregated on a couple floors in a shopping mall Sunday in defiance of a regulation banning groups of more than four people to help stem the coronavirus pandemic.

The demonstration came a week after the arrest of 15 prominent pro-democracy activists in connection with unauthorized assemblies last year. The protesters in Cityplaza mall in Taikoo Shing, near Quarry Bay in eastern Hong Kong island, carried posters in support of those arrested, opposing new security laws and calling for the “liberation” of Hong Kong.

On Friday, about 100 pro-democracy protesters rallied at a luxury downtown mall at lunchtime in one of the largest demonstrations since the Covid-19 pandemic descended on the city early this year. The outbreak effectively halted pro-democracy protests that had rocked Hong Kong for months.

Hong Kong police said in a statement that such gatherings were prohibited even if protesters clustered in separated groups of four, “as long as the persons gather for a common purpose in public place.” On Friday, the government had rejected an application by a pro-democracy labor group for a May 1 march, citing concerns about public health and security risks.

After Virus Lull, What’s Next in Hong Kong’s Protests: QuickTake

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