A top Beijing official has said Hong Kong has a duty to enact a national security law as the “adverse effects” of not having legislation have been widely observed.

Li Fei, deputy secretary general of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee and the chairman of the Basic Law Committee, arrived in Hong Kong on Wednesday night for a three-day tour. His first public activity was a speech was on Hong Kong’s role and mission under the Chinese Constitution and the Basic Law.

He said it is Hong Kong’s moral and political duty to defend the completeness of China’s territory. He said that, even though the Basic Law has been implemented for two decades years, Article 23 has yet to be enacted.

Li Fei
Li Fei.

The Article stipulates that Hong Kong shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government, or theft of state secrets, among other acts. Following mass protests in 2003, the plan to legislate the law failed.

“We have all seen the adverse effects brought by the absence of the law. I hope to stress that Hong Kong has a duty… to defend the country’s sovereignty and safety through enacting laws and strictly implementing the laws,” he said.

He cited former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping as saying that the original intention of “One Country, Two Systems” was the prosperity of the country.

“The fates of Hong Kong and the country are always tied together,” he said. “If anyone wants to badmouth the country, and harm the country’s interests in development, they will eventually fail.”

19th Chinese Communist Party National Congress
19th Chinese Communist Party National Congress. Photo: Screenshot.

Li is one of the Beijing officials who is in charge of legal affairs, though – similar to Qiao Xiaoyang, his predecessor at the Basic Law Committee – he never obtained a law degree.

During his address, he first spoke about the speech by Chinese President Xi Jinping at the 19th Communist Party National Congress last month, before switching to Hong Kong.

“Without the constitution, there is no Basic Law, there is no Hong Kong Special Administrative Region,” he said.

“Some say the Basic Law is Hong Kong’s constitution, and they intentionally or unintentionally ignored our country’s constitution. Some people even say Hong Kong’s constitutional basis comes from the Sino-British Joint Declaration. These are all wrong,” he said. “Our country is an unified, multi-ethnic, unitary state – in an unitary state, there can only be one constitution.”

Referring to advocates of localism, self-determination and Hong Kong independence, in addition to those who use violence in protests, Li said: “Regardless what name these people use, their actions were ridiculous, illegal, and emotionally intolerable.”

He said he was saddened that some youth were being incited by people “with ulterior motives” as they did not understand Hong Kong well: “We have the responsibility to promote the correct idea of the country in Hong Kong.”

independence national day democracy march rally protest
Photo: Karen Cheung/HKFP.

Li said Hong Kong’s mission was to defend the country’s sovereignty and its interests, as well as maintain Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability.

“The Hong Kong youth nowadays are the participants of the Chinese dream, but in the future they will be the pillars in fulfilling the Chinese dream,” he said.

He said Hong Kong has a duty to improve education regarding the Chinese constitution and the Basic Law so that the youth and civil servants will have better a civic consciousness to understand the country’s development objectively, and actively protect the rule of law.

Protests at venue

Around 50 schools accepted the Education Bureau’s invitation to broadcast the talk live for students. Many of them were government schools.

The pro-democracy People Power party handed out red cloths to students in Kwun Tong, Sha Tin and Shau Kei Wan, in response to Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who previously said students can cover their eyes if they did not want to watch the broadcast.

red cloth li fei

The party’s Tam Tak-chi said a school searched a student’s bag after they accepted a red cloth. Tam said he will follow up to see if the student received any unnecessary pressure or punishment.

The League of Social Democrats also protested outside the Exhibition and Convention Centre, the venue of the speech.

Li will also visit the West Kowloon terminus of the Express Rail Link during his tour of the city.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.