By Robert Marquand writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
When the British handed Hong Kong back to China more than five years ago, Asia's glittering economic hub was abuzz with talk of preserving its legal autonomy and open character.
But under pressure from Beijing to be loyal, and worried about its waning economic clout, Hong Kong's plucky independent spirit is being tested.
Days after city leaders proposed a tough new set of national security laws designed to combat "subversion," a range of religious, human rights, and media groups say they may dramatically change the freedom and rights enjoyed in the former British colony.
Article 23 is "ultimately intended to shut down groups like mine," says Frank Lu, who runs the Information Center on Human Rights and Democratic Movement in China. "Slowly they are chipping away at anyone interested in democracy or dissenters."
In the past year, Hong Kong officials have tried to clarify what constitutes crimes against the state. The much anticipated Article 23 - worked out through invisible maneuvers between Hong Kong and Beijing - is considered a barometer of Hong Kong's autonomy under the "one country, two systems" policy dating to the 1997 handover.
To be adopted after a period of public consultation, Article 23 deals with treason, sedition, and illegal activities involving secession - a sensitive category given that Hong Kong is a center for pro-Taiwan and Tibet groups. But the city's appointed chief executive Tung Chee-hwa says it is "liberal and reasonable" and conforms with internationally recognized standards of security measures.
Hong Kong's autonomy has undergone a steady set of probes by Beijing this year. City leaders overruled a Hong Kong court's verdict on residency rights, siding with Beijing. …