BEIJING — The central Chinese government passed a sweeping new security law for Hong Kong that took effect just hours before the 23rd anniversary of the city's handover from the U.K. to China on Wednesday.
The National Security Law strengthens Beijing's control on Hong Kong, a semi-autonomous region with greater democratic freedoms and alignment with international business standards than the mainland. That special status has made Hong Kong an attractive hub for many international companies wanting to tap the Greater China market.
"Some of the recent happenings in Hong Kong represent a deviation from 'one country, two systems,'" Zhang Xiaoming, executive deputy director of Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, said Wednesday at a press conference.
He was referring to the framework that allows Hong Kong some legal and economic autonomy that other Chinese cities do not have. Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, was a British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
"The purpose is not to take the pro-democratic camp in Hong Kong as an imaginary enemy. The purpose is combating a narrow category of crimes against national security," Zhang said, according to an official English translation of his Mandarin-language remarks. "The 'one country two systems' has already spoken volumes of the political tolerance of the central (government)."
"People with different views, they may continue to exist for a long time in Hong Kong ... You should not use this (difference in views) as a pretext to ... turn Hong Kong into a safe haven of anti-China forces," he said.
Under the new legislation, many of the activities carried out by protesters in Hong Kong over the last year become punishable by law. What began as largely peaceful mass protests against a controversial extradition bill more than 12 months ago turned into violent clashes with police.
An official English translation of the new law stipulates that a person who acts with a view to "undermining national unification" of Hong Kong with the mainland faces punishment of up to lifetime, depending on the severity of the offense. Financial support for such activities is also a crime.
The security law also laid out in broad strokes what could be deemed offenses by "terrorist organizations" and those who collude with foreign entities.
The text also says those who are not permanent Hong Kong residents can be deported if they break the law.
Under Chinese President Xi Jinping, Beijing's decision to move ahead with the law comes despite strong criticism from Europe and the U.S.
EU Council President Charles Michel said Tuesday that "We deplore the decision," according to a Reuters report.
U.S. President Donald Trump's administration has also taken steps toward eliminating Hong Kong's special trading status with the world's largest economy, beginning with restrictions on defense exports and access to high technology products.
Other aspects of the law indicated how Beijing would strengthen its hand in Hong Kong's affairs.
Based on the law, a new office for maintaining national security located in Hong Kong will not be subject to the special administrative region's authority. Zhang said Wednesday that many cases handled by the national security office may involve state secrets.
A national security advisor designated by the central government will sit in on meetings of a Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the law said.
Hong Kong will also promote national security education through schools and media, according to the law.
— CNBC's Lilian Wu contributed to this report.