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Police enter a shopping mall to disperse people attending a lunchtime rally in Hong Kong on Tuesday, as China passed a sweeping national security law for the city.

China approves Hong Kong national security law

Hong Kong: China approved a contentious national security law that will allow authorities to crack down on subversive and secessionist activity in Hong Kong, a move many see as Beijing’s boldest yet to erase the legal firewall between the semi-autonomous territory and mainland China’s authoritarian Communist Party system.

Tam Yiu-Chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative on the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, confirmed to reporters Tuesday that the law had been passed. He said punishments would not include the death penalty, but did not elaborate on further details.

“We hope the law will serve as a deterrent to prevent people from stirring up trouble,” Tam said.

“Don’t let Hong Kong be used as a tool to split the country.” Passage of the law came amid warnings and criticism both in Hong Kong and the international community that it will be used to curb opposition voices in the Asian financial hub.

The U.S. Has already begun moves to end special trade terms and others dispensations given to Hong Kong after the former British colony was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997.

The government has said the legislation is aimed at curbing subversive, secessionist and terrorist activities, as well as foreign intervention in the city’s affairs. It follows months of anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year that at times descended into violence.

Speaking in a video message to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the law would “only target an extremely small minority” of lawbreakers, would not be retroactive, and that mainland legal bodies would only have jurisdiction in “rare, specified situations.”

Critics say it is the most significant erosion to date of Hong Kong’s British-style rule of law and the high degree of autonomy that Beijing promised Hong Kong would enjoy at least through 2047 under a so-called “one country, two systems” framework.

After the law passed, prominent Hong Kong pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow and Nathan Law issued statements on Facebook saying they would withdraw from the pro-democracy organization Demosisto. Wong said “worrying about life and safety” has become a real issue and nobody will be able to predict the repercussions of the law, whether it is being extradited to China or facing long jail terms.”

Demosisto then announced on Facebook that it was disbanding, saying the loss of top members made it difficult to continue.

More than a hundred protesters gathered at a luxury mall in Hong Kong’s Central business district, chanting slogans including “Free Hong Kong, Revolution Now,” with several holding up a flag representing an independent Hong Kong as well as posters condemning the law.

The law’s passage “represents the greatest threat to human rights in the city’s recent history,” said the head of Amnesty International’s China Team, Joshua Rosenzweig.

“The speed and secrecy with which China has pushed through this legislation intensifies the fear that Beijing has calculatingly created a weapon of repression to be used against government critics, including people who are merely expressing their views or protesting peacefully,” Rosenzweig said in a statement.

Concerns were also expressed in Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own territory to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

“Democracy and freedom are shared universal values of Hong Kong and Taiwan,” the island’s Mainland Affairs Council said, adding that China had betrayed its promises to Hong Kong, Taiwanese overwhelmingly reject unification with China under the “one country, two systems” formula in place in Hong Kong.

The self-governing island recently said it would consider providing asylum for Hong Kong opposition figures who fear arrest for their activities.

Ahead of the law’s passage, the Trump administration said Monday it will bar defense exports to Hong Kong and will soon require licenses for the sale of items that have both civilian and military uses.

“The United States is forced to take this action to protect U.S. National security,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.

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