China proposes law limiting Hong Kong opposition activity

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China’s ceremonial parliament will consider legislation that could limit opposition activity in Hong Kong, a spokesperson said Thursday, appearing to confirm speculation that China will sidestep the territory’s own legislative body in enacting legislation to crack down on activity Beijing considers subversive.

Zhang Yesui said the National People’s Congress will deliberate a bill on “establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to safeguard national security.”

Such a move has long been under consideration but was hastened by months of anti-government protests last year in the former British colony that was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997.

Zhang’s comments at a news conference came on the eve of the opening of the congress’s annual session.

On Thursday China began its most important political event of the year, bringing together 2,000 delegates in surgical masks, after a two-month delay because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The holding of the “two sessions,” as the annual meetings are known, is a further sign of what the ruling Communist Party says is its success in bringing the outbreak under control, though clusters of cases are still popping up in some parts of the country.

Members of the Consultative Conference will “tell the world about how China, as a responsible major country, has taken firm action and contributed to international cooperation in the fight against the COVID-19 epidemic,” Wang Yang, the chairman of the body, said in a report to the opening session.

Wang’s comments were in the prepared text distributed to journalists, although he skipped over them in his delivery, apparently to save time.

Rank-and-file members wore masks in the vast auditorium inside the Great Hall of the People in the heart of Beijing. Other top officials, including Wang and President Xi Jinping, did not.

Premier Li Keqiang will deliver a keynote speech outlining economic and social goals for the year at Friday’s opening of the National People’s Congress.

It remains unclear whether Li will issue the usual economic growth target for the world’s second-largest economy. Given the economic devastation caused so far this year by the pandemic, any target would likely be considerably lower than last year’s 6.0 percent to 6.5 percent.

Tens of millions of Chinese have been thrown out of work and it’s unclear how many jobs will return. Not only have domestic production and demand been hammered, but key export markets such as the US and Europe have collapsed as the outbreak spreads worldwide.

This year’s meeting of the two bodies is being shortened to one week from the usual two as part of virus-control measures. Media access has been largely reduced and only a limited number of reporters, diplomats and observers were permitted into the meeting hall.