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China OKs H.Kong National Security Law 05/28 06:26

   China's legislature endorsed a national security law for Hong Kong on 
Thursday that has strained relations with the United States and Britain and 
prompted new protests in the territory.

   BEIJING (AP) -- China's legislature endorsed a national security law for 
Hong Kong on Thursday that has strained relations with the United States and 
Britain and prompted new protests in the territory.

   The National People's Congress approved the bill as it wrapped up an annual 
session that was held under intensive anti-coronavirus controls. The vote was 
2,878 to 1 with six abstentions, in line with the high-profile but largely 
ceremonial body's custom of near-unanimous support for all legal changes 
decided by the ruling Communist Party.

   The law will alter Hong Kong's mini-constitution, or Basic Law, to require 
the territory to enforce measures to be decided by the NPC's standing 
committee, a small body controlled by the ruling party that handles most 
lawmaking work.

   The law reflects the determination of President Xi Jinping's government to 
tighten control over Hong Kong following 11 months of anti-government protests. 
Activists in Hong Kong say the law will undermine the "high degree of autonomy" 
promised to the former British colony when it was handed back to China in 1997 
under a "one country, two systems" framework and might be used to suppress 
political activity.

   Premier Li Keqiang, the country's No. 2 leader, defended the law as 
consistent with Beijing's promises.

   "The decision adopted by the NPC session is designed for steady 
implementation of ?one country, two systems' and Hong Kong's long-term 
prosperity and stability," Li said at a news conference.

   The law and the way it is being enacted prompted U.S. Secretary of State 
Mike Pompeo on Wednesday to announce Washington will no longer treat Hong Kong 
as autonomous from Beijing. That could hurt the territory's attractiveness as a 
business center.

   Pompeo's notice adds Hong Kong to the Trump administration's conflicts with 
China over trade, technology, religious freedom, Chinese handling of the 
coronavirus pandemic and the status of Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing 
claims as its own territory.

   Li called for mutual respect and Sino-U.S. cooperation to promote "extensive 
common interests" in resolving global problems and promoting trade, science and 
other fields.

   "Both countries stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation," 
Li said.

   On Thursday, three pro-democracy lawmakers were ejected from Hong Kong's 
legislative chamber during a debate over a bill that would criminalize 
insulting or abusing the Chinese national anthem.

   Also Thursday, the NPC approved a government budget that will increase 
spending to generate jobs in an effort to reverse an economic slump after 
Chinese industries were shut down to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

   Private sector analysts say as much as 30% of the urban workforce, or as 
many as 130 million people, lost their jobs at least temporarily during the 
shutdown. They say as many as 25 million jobs might be lost for good this year.

   The budget calls for giving local governments 2 trillion yuan ($280 billion) 
to spend on meeting goals including creating 9 million new jobs. That is in 
line with expectations of higher spending but a fraction of the $1 
trillion-plus stimulus packages launched or discussed by the United States, 
Japan and Europe.

   Li, the premier, said Beijing is in a "strong position to introduce new 
measures" if necessary but wants to avoid flooding the economy with too much 
money. He said 70% of planned spending is aimed at putting wages in workers' 
pockets in order to support consumer spending, the biggest driver of the 
economy.

   "We will do our utmost to keep China's economic growth stable," Li said. "At 
the same time, we must make sure that all measures taken are well calibrated."

   In an anti-virus measure, Li sat on a dais in the Great Hall of the People, 
the seat of the legislature in central Beijing, and talked by video link with 
reporters at a media center 4 miles (6.5 kilometers) away. The reporters, 
wearing masks, sat in widely spaced chairs in an auditorium, watching Li on a 
video screen.

   The premier called for international cooperation in fighting the coronavirus 
pandemic but didn't answer a question about how an investigation into the 
origins of the pandemic demanded by Washington and some other governments 
should be conducted.

   Beijing has resisted pressure for an inquiry following criticism it 
mishandled the early response to the disease that emerged in central China in 
December. China has blocked beef imports from four Australian suppliers in 
apparent retaliation for Australia's calls for an investigation.

 
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