May 26 (UPI) -- Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defended a controversial China-proposed national security law from criticism that it will strip the city of its autonomy, stating it will "only target a handful of people" while protecting the majority of citizens in the special administrative region.
During a press conference Tuesday, Lam, the city's chief executive, explained the recently proposed law will "plug the loophole" and protect national security from acts of secession, sedition, subversion and terrorism, as well as from international forces.
"We are protecting the large majority of law-abiding citizens in Hong Kong," she said. "They will continue to enjoy [their] rights and freedoms."
Late last week, China proposed the national security law following nearly a year of pro-democracy protests that Beijing has claimed were at least partially fueled by foreign actors. The protests, which calmed amid the coronavirus protests, reignited over the weekend, resulting in at least 180 arrests.
Critics have warned the law will essentially be the end of the One Country, Two Systems framework Hong Kong has functioned under since it was returned from British to Chinese rule in 1997 and which affords it freedoms the mainland does not have.
The law has attracted widespread international worry and 233 parliamentarians from 26 countries signed a petition calling the law a "flagrant break of the Sino-British Joint Declaration," which promised Hong Kong 50 years of a "high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms" after returning to Chinese rule.
Lam on Tuesday dismissed these concerns, stating the law will ensure the longevity of the One Country, Two Systems framework while accusing foreign politicians from countries with similar laws of being hypocritical.
"Most countries have their own national security legislation; why is it that in Hong Kong, which is an inalienable part of the People's Republic of China, will legislation for national security have a negative impact?" she said.
She dismissed claims it will weaken the city's freedoms as "groundless" and said that the semi-autonomous region's rights will continue.
The press conference came a day after Taiwan President Tsai Ing-Wen promised "necessary assistance" to the people of Hong Kong, calling the law a threat to the city's democratic freedoms and judicial independence.