China on Friday submitted a proposal to impose new national security laws on Hong Kong amid criticism that it is aimed at anti-government protests and to stifle dissent, AFP reported.

The plan was tabled on the opening day of the week-long National People’s Congress, which largely rubber-stamps decisions already taken by the country’s ruling Communist Party. In his state-of-the-nation speech at China’s annual parliamentary session, Premier Li Keqiang said that the country would “establish and improve the legal systems and mechanisms to safeguard national security” in Hong Kong.

The move is expected to spark further anger and protests in Hong Kong, which was rocked by seven months of increasingly violent anti-government unrest last year. Activists and critics said it will effectively erase the “one country, two systems” framework that is meant to grant Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.

Details of the the legislation have not been given yet. However, according to the draft legislation the laws will tackle secession, acts of subversion and terrorism activities, as well as foreign interference, Reuters reported. “When needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People’s Government will set up agencies” in Hong Kong to safeguard national security, the draft added.

China warns India against interference in advance

The Chinese government, in an effort to blunt criticism of the proposed legislation, also sought to warn India and some other countries in advance, PTI reported. China set a demarche to India and the other countries explaining the reason for the new draft legislation with a reminder that “upholding national security” in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is “purely China’s internal affair” which no foreign country can interfere in.

The demarche claimed that since returning to China in 1997 from British rule, Hong Kong has not fulfilled its constitutional national security duties. “There is a clear loophole in Hong Kong’s legal system and an absence of a mechanism of enforcement,” the demarche alleged. “The opposition in Hong Kong have long colluded with external forces to carry out acts of secession, subversion, infiltration and destruction against the Chinese mainland.”

The demarche added that the protests against an amendment bill in Hong Kong last year “greatly undermined” the rule of law in the region, and “battered its economy and people’s livelihoods”.

“These activities have not only caused enormous damage to the security of the SAR authorities and public order, mounted a serious challenge to the principle of one country, two systems , but also posed a grave threat to China’s national security, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity,” the demarche alleged. However, it said that only a small minority of Hong Kong citizens comprise “independence elements, separatists and those organising and joining terrorist activities”. Beijing said it seeks to punish only these persons.

China-US tension

The proposed legislation could also heighten tensions between China and the United States, whose relationship has already worsened due to accusations over the origin of the coronavirus pandemic and trade disputes.

On Thursday, US President Donald Trump warned Washington would react “very strongly” if Beijing went ahead with the security law. He told reporters “nobody knows yet” the details of China’s plan. “If it happens we’ll address that issue very strongly,” he added.

The US State Department also warned China, saying a high-degree of autonomy and respect for human rights were key to preserving Hong Kong’s special status. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said they were delaying its submission to Congress of the annual Hong Kong Policy Act Report in order to account for any additional actions that Beijing may be contemplating in the run-up to and during the National People’s Congress that would further undermine Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. She also added that the law did not reflect the will of the people and if imposed would be met with strong condemnation.