China’s legislature on Thursday voted to approve a new security law for Hong Kong that will make it a criminal offence to subvert Beijing’s authority in the region, reported BBC. The proposal for the new controversial law was tabled on Friday at the opening of the National People’s Congress amid widespread concern from critics who say it could put an end to the region’s special status.

The unprecedented law is aimed at curbing protests – which rocked Hong Kong last year – prohibiting subversion, separatism, “acts of foreign interference”, and terrorism. These charges are often used in the Chinese mainland to stifle dissidents and political opponents, according to The Guardian. The new law will also allow China’s security personnel to operate in Hong Kong.

Members of the 13th National People’s Congress approved the legislation, called “Establishing and Improving the Legal System and Enforcement Mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to Safeguard National Security”, during the final meeting of its third annual session, according to Xinhua. A detailed legislation is likely to be drafted and implemented within weeks.

Experts say the law is expected to trigger unrest in the city. On Thursday, riot police were stationed across Hong Kong to quell any protests. Around 360 people were arrested in the city on Wednesday as police resorted to firing pepper pellets and detained suspects after several skirmishes erupted across the city.

US on the new security law

United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday told Congress that Hong Kong no longer qualified for the special status under the country’s law, Reuters reported. Pompeo’s remark came amid a fresh wave of protests in Hong Kong due to the new legislation passed by China.

Pompeo said China’s plans for the new legislation was “only the latest in a series of actions that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms”. “No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” he added.

The American politician added that he had certified to the US Congress on Wednesday that Hong Kong no longer needed “treatment under United States laws” in the same way they were applied before July 1997. “It is now clear that China is modeling Hong Kong after itself,” he said.

United States President Donald Trump could now decide to end or retain the economic privileges that Hong Kong enjoys. Unidentified officials told Reuters that the Trump administration was considering suspending Hong Kong’s preferential tariff rates for exports to the US.

Trump had said on Tuesday that his administration was working on a response to China’s planned national security legislation for Hong Kong and it would be announced soon. The tension between the two nations over trade have intensified amid the outbreak of the coronavirus.