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What China’s move to crack down on Hong Kong means for city’s autonomy

China’s National People’s Congress has created a legislative process to criminalize certain behavior in Hong Kong. Pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong, as well as the Trump administration, have criticized the move, arguing it erodes the city’s freedoms and goes against Beijing’s prior promises to respect its autonomy. Nick Schifrin reports on the reaction from Hong Kong and Washington, D.C.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    China's moves to impose greater control over Hong Kong continued today, with a formal legislative process set forth in Beijing.

    In response, the U.S., the United Kingdom, Australia, and Canada denounced the move. And the British foreign secretary raised an extraordinary prospect if Beijing persists, citizenship for 300,000 Hong Kongers holding British passports, which date back to before the city's handover to China.

    Here now, Nick Schifrin.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    This is how Hong Kong activists say liberty dies, to thunderous applause.

    (APPLAUSE)

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The National People's Congress, Beijing's rubber-stamp parliament, endorsed a legislative pathway that could effectively end Hong Kong's special status. The vote was 2,878-1.

    In a press conference, China's second highest ranking official said Beijing was maintaining security and stability.

  • Li Keqiang (through translator):

    The decision adopted is designed to ensure the steady and long-term implementation of one country, two systems and Hong Kong's long-term prosperity and stability.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Pro-democracy activists say, this is Beijing's version of stability, police slamming a reporter to the ground during yesterday's protests.

    For more than a century, Hong Kong has provided its citizens freedoms, including to demonstrate. Those freedoms do not exist in mainland China. And pro-democracy advocates fear this legislation would be a death blow.

  • Alvin Yeung:

    To a lot of people, this is at least the beginning of the end of freedom. And now, if you take away this essential element of this wonderful city, what would be left?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Alvin Yeung is a pro-democracy legislator who's protested against Hong Kong's pro-Beijing government.

    He says, young people started filling Hong Kong's streets last year to fight an erosion of freedom. He says now they fear they have lost, and they are considering leaving.

  • Alvin Yeung:

    They thought maybe it's time to bring their kids abroad, so that their kids will be free from all this fear.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    What can you do? Can you really fight this at all?

  • Alvin Yeung:

    Well, to be perfectly frank, I would be extremely irresponsible if we — if I say there are lots of options. In fact, our options are limited.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The National People's Congress did not write the final law. That will be done by the Communist Party's most senior body later this year.

    But their authorization to draft the law includes two major changes to Hong Kong. For the first time, it allows relevant national security organs of the Central People's Government to be based in Hong Kong. And it says any activities that could subvert state power, split the country, or seriously endanger national security will be punished.

    Beijing says those protests last year turned violent and became — quote — "homegrown terrorism." And Beijing argues these demonstrators were encouraged by the U.S.

    Today, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing was pushing back on American interference.

  • Zhao Lijian (through translator):

    If anyone insists on jeopardizing the interests of China, China is sure to take all necessary measures to fight back resolutely.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Beijing's assertiveness is an attempt to end what the Communist Party calls the century of humiliation. Hong Kong used to be part of China. But, in the 1800s, foreign powers attacked, and the British forced China to lease the city.

    In 1997, the British handed the city over. And under a deal known as one country, two systems, communist China promised Hong Kong could keep its British-written laws and independent judiciary. The administration says Beijing has not kept that promise, and is debating how to respond.

    Senior administration officials say they are considering sanctions on senior Communist Party officials or even ending Hong Kong's special economic status that's led to 1,300 American companies currently based in Hong Kong.

    But the business community warns the administration that it's not time to erode that special status yet.

  • Craig Allen:

    By introducing this legislation, it doesn't mean that Hong Kong is suddenly a part of China. Hong Kong will retain Hong Kong's individual identity.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Craig Allen is the president of the U.S.-China Business Council, which advocates for U.S. businesses in mainland China and Hong Kong. He wants the administration to go slow, but also warns that American companies could leave Hong Kong if the city's rule of law is eroded.

  • Craig Allen:

    Most of those 1,300 companies are there because of the rule of law. And if the rule of law is going to be compromised, then Hong Kong's value from a business perspective is greatly diminished.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Some longtime China experts believe that Beijing could still change its mind about Hong Kong, if the administration's response is judicious.

    Doug Paal is with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

  • Doug Paal:

    I think, if we're discriminating in the way we respond, we can create more debate in China about whether or not Xi has chosen the right tools.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    But the pro-democracy protesters who have suffered from Hong Kong and Beijing's crackdown call that naive, and are asking for the U.S. to respond harshly.

  • Joshua Wong:

    Partial sanctions, embargoes or even freeze the separate economic entity in Hong Kong would also be the weapon of equipment for the world to let Beijing to know that it's a must to completely stop the implementation of national security law.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    President Trump says he will announce the U.S.' response tomorrow. The fate of Hong Kong as a global hub is in the balance.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Nick Schifrin.

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