The legislation pushes Beijing further along a collision course with the United States, Britain and other Western governments, which have said it erodes the high degree of autonomy the global financial hub was granted at its July 1, 1997 handover.
China's parliament passed national security legislation for Hong Kong on Tuesday, setting the stage for the most radical changes to the former British colony's way of life since it returned to Chinese rule almost exactly 23 years ago.
President Xi Jinping signed a presidential order promulgating the law after it was approved by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, the official Xinhua News Agency said.
It will be added to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution.
Few details were given but China’s liaison office in Hong Kong issued a statement warning opponents of the law not to “underestimate the party center’s determination to safeguard Hong Kong’s national security” or its willingness and ability to enforce the new rules.
The United States began eliminating Hong Kong's special status under US law on Monday, halting defence exports and restricting the territory's access to high technology products.
'Heaviest penalty in new security law is life imprisonment'
The heaviest penalty that can be imposed in China's new national security law for Hong Kong is life imprisonment, the editor in chief of the Global Times newspaper said, citing people who have seen the draft of the law.
Hu Xijin said on Twitter that official information on the new legislation, which he says was passed by "China's top legislature" earlier, will be released later in the day.
I've learned the National Security Law for Hong Kong has been passed by China's top legislature this morning. People who saw the draft said the heaviest penalty is life imprisonment. The law will take effect on July 1. Official detailed information will be released later today.— Hu Xijin 胡锡进 (@HuXijin_GT) June 30, 2020
He gave no further details, such as what crimes could lead to a life sentence under the law.
The Global Times is published by the People's Daily, the official newspaper of China's ruling Communist Party.
Sanctions will not 'scare us'
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, speaking at her regular weekly news conference, said it was not appropriate for her to comment on the legislation as the meeting in Beijing was still ongoing, but threw a jibe at Washington.
"No sort of sanctioning action will ever scare us," Lam said.
A draft of the law has yet to be published. Beijing says the law, which comes in response to last year's often-violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, aims to tackle subversion, terrorism, separatism and collusion with foreign forces.
This month, China's official state agency Xinhua unveiled some of its provisions, including that it would supersede existing Hong Kong legislation and that the power of interpretation belongs to China's parliament top committee.
Beijing is expected to set up a national security office in Hong Kong to "supervise, guide and support" the city government. Beijing could also exercise jurisdiction on certain cases.
Judges for security cases are expected to be appointed by the city's chief executive. Senior judges now allocate rosters up through Hong Kong's independent judicial system.
It is still unclear which specific activities are to be made illegal, how precisely they are defined or what punishment they carry.
The South China Morning Post (SCMP), quoting an unnamed source, said Xinhua will publish details of the law on Tuesday afternoon and Hong Kong officials will gather at Beijing's top representative office in the city later in the day for a meeting on the legislation.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few "troublemakers" and will not affect rights and freedoms, nor investor interests.
The law comes into force as soon as it is gazetted in Hong Kong, which is seen as imminent.
Police have banned this year's July 1 rally on the anniversary of the 1997 handover, citing coronavirus restrictions. It is unclear if attending the rally would constitute a national security crime if the law came into force by Wednesday.
The SCMP, citing "police insiders", said about 4,000 officers will be on stand by on Wednesday to handle any unrest if people defy the ban.
Hong Kong is one of many developing conflicts between Beijing and Washington, on top of trade issues, the South China Sea and the coronavirus pandemic.
Britain has said the security law would violate China's international obligations and its handover agreement, which promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for 50 years under a "one country, two systems" formula.
Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Tuesday that if China had passed the security law for Hong Kong, it was "extremely regrettable".
Yoshihide Suga said China's move to pass national security legislation for Hong Kong, if confirmed, was "regrettable" and undermined credibility in the 'one country, two systems' formula of governance.
"We will continue to work with the countries involved to deal with this issue appropriately," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference when asked about reports that China's parliament had passed the law on Tuesday.
He added that Japan would continue to communicate closely with the United States and China, saying stable relations between the two global powers were vital for regional and global security.
The European Parliament earlier in June passed a resolution saying the European Union should take China to the International Court of Justice in The Hague if Beijing imposed the law.
Foreign ministers of the Group of Seven countries have called on China not to push the legislation.
The Taiwan government warned its citizens of risks in visiting Hong Kong.
The new law would "severely impact" freedom, democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, Taiwan's cabinet said in a statement, adding that the democratic island would continue to offer help to Hong Kong citizens.
China has hit back at the outcry from the West, denouncing what it called interference in its internal affairs.
Hong Kong stocks were up 0.9 percent on Tuesday, in line with Asian markets.
Activist groups disband
A pro-democracy group led by Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong was disbanded hours after China's parliament passed national security legislation for the Chinese-ruled city that has stoked fears for its freedoms.
Wong, who rose to prominence during a series of protests in 2014, has rallied support for Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement overseas, in particular in the United States, drawing the wrath of Beijing, which says he is a "black hand" of foreign forces.
He has said he expects to be targeted under the law.
"If my voice will not be heard soon, I hope that the international community will continue to speak up for Hong Kong and step up concrete efforts to defend our last bit of freedom," Wong said on his Twitter feed, announcing he was stepping down from his group, Demosisto.
A short while later, Demosisto members Nathan Law and Agnes Chow also said they were also stepping down.
"The struggle of Hong Kong people will not stop, it will only continue with a more determined attitude," Law said in a Facebook post.
Demosisto then said on its Facebook page it was disbanding.
I hereby declare withdrawing from Demosisto...— Joshua Wong 黃之鋒 😷 (@joshuawongcf) June 30, 2020
If my voice will not be heard soon, I hope that the international community will continue to speak up for Hong Kong and step up concrete efforts to defend our last bit of freedom. pic.twitter.com/BIGD5tgriF
While details of the security legislation have not been made public, many in Hong Kong fear it will be used to silence dissent.
It has also alarmed foreign governments concerned that Beijing is eroding the high degree of autonomy granted to the city when it was returned to Chinese rule in 1997, which underpins its role as a financial centre.
China says the national security law will target only a small group of troublemakers and people who abide by the legislation have no reason to worry.