Pro-Beijing figures have said it is time for Hong Kong make preparations for the national security law, after a top Beijing official said the city had a duty to enact it. Democrats have insisted that the controversial law should not be rolled out before universal suffrage has been achieved.

Li Fei, chairman of Beijing’s Basic Law Committee, said in a keynote speech on Thursday that the “adverse effects” of not having the national security law have been widely observed.

Ip Kwok-him
Ip Kwok-him.

Article 23 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 was abandoned.

Hong Kong’s ‘duty’

Ip Kwok-him, a Hong Kong delegate to the National People’s Congress, said he did not believe Li was pressuring the government, but it should make preparations to enact it within the next five years.

“You cannot wait for five years and then another five years… The government should make actual steps, and not only say they will consider it. Five years is not a short period of time, most importantly, [the government] should make efforts to allow the public to understand Article 23 better.”

Asked if the government has enough political momentum to do so, Ip said it had a duty: “You cannot say you just can’t do it because you don’t have enough political momentum.”

Business and Professionals Alliance lawmaker Priscilla Leung also said: “It is a relatively good time for the government to openly speak about how it views the issue… so that the public knows why there is a need to enact the law.”

Leung said that, although Li did not address the issue of Hong Kong football fans booing the national anthem, he expressed concerns over a lack of national identity among the city’s youth.

Priscilla Leung
Priscilla Leung. File

New People’s Party lawmaker Regina Ip, who was the security secretary when the legislation failed in 2003, said Li’s remarks would not create pressure for the chief executive, as she knows it is the government’s duty to enact the law.

“Some young people think Hong Kong can go independent – they do not know that advocating for independence is equal to secession,” she said. “There is no law against secession in our legal system, [but] there is a loophole… The earlier the legislation the better. It is better for everyone to be clear about what constitutes the crime of harming national security.”

Appropriate social atmosphere

Executive Councillor Ronny Tong said conditions will not be appropriate for legislation over the coming year or so.

Meanwhile, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung said the legislative process should only start under an appropriate social atmosphere, as stated by Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

Asked to explain when will an appropriate moment may come, Cheung said: “I believe this administration still has more than four years to go, doesn’t it? We have enough chance to find a good time. If the timing is not right, it may be even more difficult – so we have to work on communication and explain to the public.”

Matthew Cheung
Matthew Cheung. Photo: In-Media.

Democratic Party leader Wu Chi-wai said Li selectively talked about Hong Kong’s constitutional duty with Article 23, but ignored Article 45 and 68 relating to universal suffrage for the chief executive and the Legislative Council.

“The Hong Kong government also has a constitutional duty over these. After we have a democratic system, it will be easier for society to form a consensus whereby we can handle the legislation of Article 23, and have a better recognition of the implementation of ‘One Country, Two Systems’,” he said.

He added that Li’s speech will only make the public believe that Beijing will forcefully enact the law: “His words will create anxiety in society… If Article 23 is to be legislated, I am sure that the process – especially under the currently increasing tensions between China and Hong Kong – will only create more confrontation.”

Blame CY?

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung said Li did not mention Article 23 during the tenure former chief executive Leung Chun-ying.

“In his five-year tenure, he never mentioned it. If there are any adverse effects, who created them? Leung Chun-ying must be responsible,” he said. “But where is Leung Chun-ying now? He is a state leader – a vice-chairman of the CPPCC. So you appreciated and promoted him… did Leung do a good job or a bad job? I don’t understand.”

Yeung said he did not see any significant changes over recent months suggesting a national security law should be enacted: “I don’t see the urgency.”

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.