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China reportedly passes national security law for Hong Kong

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Hong Kong Police Guard of Honour raises a Chinese national flag and a Hong Kong flag during a flag raising ceremony at the Golden Bauhinia Square on June 15, 2020 in Hong Kong, China.

Anthony Kwan | Getty Images

The top decision-making body in China’s parliament has reportedly passed the contentious national security law for Hong Kong, according to local media.

Reuters cited Cable TV in Hong Kong as reporting that the law was passed unanimously by the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress on Tuesday.

Beijing says the law is aimed at prohibiting secession, subversion of state power, terrorism activities and foreign interference. The law was proposed during China’s annual parliamentary meeting in late May and reignited protests in Hong Kong over fears that freedoms in the city would be eroded.

It comes ahead of the anniversary of Hong Kong’s 1997 handover from the U.K. to mainland China on July 1.

Hong Kong is a former British colony governed under the “one country, two systems” framework and has more autonomy than other Chinese cities, including limited election rights and a largely separate legal and economic system. The special administrative region was handed back to China in 1997.

Ahead of the passage of that law, Eurasia Group said that passing the law before the anniversary of the handover could be an indication that Beijing wants to “clamp down on protests far ahead” of Hong Kong’s legislative council elections in September.

Controversy over the law

Few details about the bill are known, but many were concerned about Beijing encroaching on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms, in part because the move would bypass the city’s own lawmakers. Hong Kong was promised a high level of autonomy for 50 years after the handover.

It is also seen as a way for China to gain more control after Hong Kong saw prolonged — and sometimes violent —protests over a now-withdrawn extradition bill.

Meanwhile, businesses see the need for a security law, but want to know what it entails and how it will be implemented, David Dodwell, executive director of the Hong Kong-APEC Trade Policy Group, told CNBC in early June.

Reuters reported that a national security office would be set up in Hong Kong to collect intelligence and handle related crimes, and that the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, would be allowed to appoint specific judges to hear national security cases. 

Lam said she would not do so, but would select a panel of judges that the judiciary can choose from, according to Reuters. 

She has also said the new law would not infringe on Hong Kong’s way of life, but would target a “small minority of illegal and criminal acts.”

— CNBC’s Huileng Tan, Yen Nee Lee, Tucker Higgins contributed to this report.

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Modi’s Weibo account removed at request of Indian embassy in China

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Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) talks to Chinese President Xi Jingping during the BRICS meeting in Goa, India, on October 16, 2016.

Prakash Singh | AFP | Getty Images

China’s Twitter like service, Weibo, has removed Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s account at the request of the Indian embassy in Beijing. 

The unusual move comes amid rising tensions between India and China over their disputed border high in the Western Himalayas and a clash earlier this month that left 20 Indian soldiers dead

India retaliated by banning 59 Chinese apps, including high-profile ones such as TikTok and WeChat. New Delhi is also reportedly weighing whether to let Chinese telecommunications giant Huawei participate in the rollout of the country’s next-generation 5G mobile networks. 

Weibo announced late on Wednesday that it had received a request from the Indian embassy in China to close Modi’s account.

“Weibo received an application from the Indian embassy in China, which said: ‘(I) hope to have the official Weibo account of Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed from the platform,'” it said.

The Chinese microblogging platform complied with the request and announced that: “Weibo has closed what was certified as the account of the Prime Minister of India.”

The Indian embassy in Beijing was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

Modi has been on Weibo since 2015 but posted quite infrequently. 

His first ever post was written in Chinese and translated as: “Hello China! Looking forward to interacting with Chinese friends through Weibo.” 

Because social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter are effectively blocked in China, Weibo is a major way to communicate with a Chinese audience. 

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UK extends visa rights to Hong Kongers, offers path to citizenship

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In this photo taken in Hong Kong on June 3, 2020, Reese Tan, a 25-year old tutor, poses with his British National (Overseas), or BN(O), in his favorite part of the city and the place he would miss the most if he leaves, the bustling shopping and eating district of Mongkok.

Anthony Wallace | AFP | Getty Images

The U.K. is offering around 3 million Hong Kong residents a path to British citizenship after a new national security law was imposed in the city, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said on Wednesday.

That announcement came after Beijing passed and implemented a new national security law in Hong Kong. Raab called the move “grave and deeply disturbing.”

“The enactment and imposition of this national security law constitute a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Parliament on Wednesday.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher guarantees Hong Kong’s autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework. The city was a British colony for over 150 years before being transferred back to China in 1997.

The new national security law is spurring concerns about excessive oversight from Beijing and eroding rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.

About 3 million Hong Kongers are eligible for British National (Overseas) passports. There were 357,156 BN(O) passport holders as of April 17.

The new measures extend the visa rights of BN(O) passport holders, allowing them to stay in the U.K. for five years with the ability to work or study. That’s far greater than the six months previously allowed.

After five years, the passport holders will be able to apply for settled status and citizenship, according to information on the U.K. government website.

“This is a special, bespoke, set of arrangements developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong,” said Raab in Parliament.

“We want a positive relationship with China. But, we will not look the other way on Hong Kong, and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people,” he added.

The U.S. and Taiwan are also looking into helping those who want to leave Hong Kong.

In the U.S., a bipartisan bill known as the “Hong Kong Safe Harbor Act” would grant Hong Kongers priority refugee status. Introduced in both chambers of Congress this week, the bill would enable those who fear political persecution from China to more quickly leave the city.

Taiwan on Wednesday set up an office to help resettle fleeing Hong Kongers.

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Pakistan central bank governor on economic challenges during coronavirus pandemic

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The coronavirus pandemic is a public health crisis and until it’s addressed, there will most likely be economic hardships ahead, Pakistan’s central bank governor told CNBC. 

Pakistan has reported more than 213,000 cases of infection and nearly 4,400 people have died.

“We are very concerned. First and foremost, this is a public health crisis — we have to remind ourselves of that,” Reza Baqir said on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Wednesday.

“And, only on a secondary basis, then it becomes an economic crisis. Until the public health crisis is addressed, we should continue to expect challenges on the economic front,” he added. 

For countries like Pakistan, the trade-off between lives and livelihood is a very real trade-off.

Reza Baqir

Pakistan’s central bank governor

Prime Minister Imran Khan’s government lifted a two-month-long lockdown in early May, a few weeks before an important festival. 

As millions were struggling with starvation during that time of drastically reduced economic activity, the country’s Covid-19 cases surged once the lockdown was eased, Reuters reported

Lockdowns are a ‘luxury’

At the moment, the government is targeting coronavirus hotspots in the country and locking those areas down. 

Baqir explained that prolonged national lockdowns are a “luxury of the rich.” 

“For countries like Pakistan, the trade-off between lives and livelihood is a very real trade-off,” he said. The country has many day laborers who earn daily wages and lockdown would abruptly cut off their source of income. Without having a savings pool to dip into, many of those people would be looking at starvation, according to Baqir. 

Policemen put barbed wire as an market area is sealed by the authorities in Rawalpindi on July 1, 2020, as COVID-19 coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Farooq Naeem | AFP | Getty Images

Pakistan has limited fiscal policy options to help the economy weather the coronavirus crisis. Considering the country’s relatively large public debt, excessive government spending to boost the economy will be difficult.

On the monetary policy side, Baqir said the central bank injected so far about $7 billion, or 2.5% of GDP, in terms of liquidity support to households and businesses.

The central bank last week slashed its monetary policy rate by 100 basis points to 7% — State Bank of Pakistan has cut interest rates by 625 basis points since March when the coronavirus infection began spreading through the country. Baqir told CNBC the move was in tandem with the fall in inflation, from above 14% in January to around 8% currently. 

“There is no doubt that we face grave challenges,” Baqir said.

He outlined the three considerations in Pakistan’s response to the crisis. 

First, he highlighted that before the virus struck, the country’s economic fundamentals was improving – such as bringing down its current account deficit, which was a core part of its economic problems. Second, its fiscal and monetary policies are “prudent,” and finally, Pakistan is working with international financial organizations like the IMF and World Bank to keep its economy afloat. 

“I think the smart lockdown strategy of locking down hot spots in cities so far is working reasonably well, and we are confident that with the combination of measures – for us on the economic side, we should come out of this crisis largely unscathed,” Baqir said. 

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