Hong Kong’s “mini-constitution” says it must enact security laws to prevent “treason, secession and sedition”.
But such laws have never been passed and now Beijing is now attempting to push them through.
The annual National People’s Congress largely rubber-stamps decisions already taken by the Communist leadership.
The BBC’s China correspondent, Robin Brant, says that what makes the situation so incendiary is that Beijing could, in theory, simply bypass Hong Kong’s elected legislators and impose the changes.
Hong Kong is what is known as a “special administrative region” of China.
It has observed a “one country, two systems” policy since Britain returned sovereignty in 1997, which has allowed it certain freedoms the rest of China does not have.
Pro-democracy activists fear that China pushing through the law could mean “the end of Hong Kong” – that is, the effective end of its autonomy and these freedoms.
Last year, Hong Kong experienced a sustained wave of violent protest and public fury as well as demands for democratic reform.
The Chinese leadership believes this law is needed to prevent a repeat of those protests.
According to the Basic Law – the territory’s mini-constitution – Hong Kong’s government is required to pass national security legislation.
However, an attempt in 2003 failed after 500,000 people took to the streets in opposition.
So the latest attempt to push through the laws has caused outrage among pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong.
One legislator on Thursday called the laws “the most controversial [issue] in Hong Kong since the handover”. (Courtesy BBC)