New Zealand Government 'reacts with concern' as China tightens grip on Hong Kong

Winston Peters says the New Zealand Government has "reacted with concern" at China's proposed new national security legislation for Hong Kong.

The Chinese Communist Party has started the process to impose the controversial law, which would ban secession, foreign interference, terrorism and all seditious activities aimed at toppling the central government and any external interference in the financial hub.

It marks an escalation in attempts to bring the semi-autonomous territory further under its control and crack down on pro-democracy protestors.

But Peters, the Foreign Affairs Minister, says China needs to respect the "fundamental rights" of the Hong Kong people.

"We have a strong interest in seeing confidence maintained in the 'one country, two systems' principle under which Hong Kong is assured of a high degree of autonomy," Peters says in a statement on Saturday. 

"Legislating on Hong Kong's behalf without the direct participation of its people and legislature would challenge that principle.

"It is important that any national security legislation is enacted in a way that respects the fundamental rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and has their support."

Pro-democracy demonstrators have for years strongly opposed the idea of national security laws, arguing they could erode the city's high degree of autonomy, guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula put in place when it returned to Chinese rule.

But Chinese officials see new national security legislation as necessary after last year's often violent pro-democracy unrest that plunged the city into its deepest turmoil since it returned to Beijing rule in 1997.

"In light of the new circumstances and need, the National People's Congress (NPC) is exercising its constitutional power" to establish a new legal framework and enforcement mechanism to safeguard national security in Hong Kong, Zhang Yesui, the spokesman for the legislature, said.

The legislation, which will be deliberated by the NPC, could be a turning point for its freest and most international city, potentially triggering a revision of its special status in Washington and likely to spark more unrest.

Online posts had already emerged urging people to gather to protest on Thursday night and dozens were seen shouting pro-democracy slogans in a shopping mall as riot police stood nearby.

Opposition democrats said the move would gravely wound Hong Kong's reputation as a financial centre and its high degree of autonomy.

"If this move takes place, 'one country, two systems' will be officially erased," said democratic lawmaker Dennis Kwok.

"This is the end of Hong Kong," added Kwok, flanked by other opposition democrats.

Hong Kong people took to the streets last year to protest a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed extraditions of criminal suspects to mainland China. The movement broadened to include demands for broader democracy amid perceptions that Beijing was tightening its grip over the city.

Reuters / Newshub.