Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen has said that the public should not demonise the national security law which Hong Kong has to enact in accordance with the Basic Law.

He said he has made his stance clear many times that the city has a constitutional duty to enact the law as stipulated in Article 23 “for Hong Kong, for the country, and for Hong Kong as a part of the country.”

“Article 23 should not be seen as something negative, or even something to be demonised,” he said.

File photo: In-Media.

Article 23 states that Hong Kong shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, or subversion against the central government, or theft of state secrets, among other acts. Following mass protests in 2003, the plan to introduce a new law was abandoned.

‘It will be controversial’

The debate over the failed law was revived this week as top Beijing official Li Fei made a direct mention of it in a keynote speech, saying that the “adverse effects” of not having such a law have been widely observed. He said the pro-independence movement in Hong Kong must be crushed.

Yuen said the common law system had been kept under the Basic Law, thus it is the appropriate approach to enact a national security law suitable for Hong Kong’s situation and the country’s security, using Hong Kong’s system and legal process.

“From a legal viewpoint, if the content is good, [the legislation] can be done any time,” he said. “In reality, we have to take into account Hong Kong’s political environment and situation. Like other legislative work, we must obtain support and recognition from society, especially as we all know that – if we start legislation of Article 23 – it will be controversial.”

He said there must be enough time to explain to the public and conduct consultations: “We have to consider the overall situation from a wider perspective, including whether we have more urgent work like livelihood issues, or whether we can conduct work on livelihood issues and Article 23 together at the same time… we may consider things carefully.”

Lau Siu-kai. File

Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the semi-official think tank Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, said there is an urgency to enact the law because of the rise of the pro-independence movement.

“Many would say it is because we don’t have the Article 23 to have a deterrent effect,” he said on a Commercial Radio programme. “But if the government forcefully enacts the law in a difficult situation, even if it is legislated, it may cause serious damage to the government… So there was never a timetable.”

Chief Executive Carrie Lam had she would only enact the law under a suitable social atmosphere. Lau said Li’s speech was in a way making preparations to create the atmosphere by showing its urgency.

Lau also said that the legislation could be introduced in stages, instead of enacting it in one go, and that Hong Kong needs laws other than Article 23 to cover national security.

Kris Cheng

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.