Lau Siu-kai, a top advisor to Beijing, has said he was uncertain whether Hong Kong election candidates could be barred from future elections for opposing the legislation of the controversial national security law.

Lau, vice-chairman of the semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, said existing rules to bar candidates were unclear.

But he said there was a basic principle and bottom line that anyone who wanted to enter the political structure must respect and uphold the Chinese constitution and Hong Kong’s Basic Law, and they cannot challenge China’s sovereignty.

Lau Siu-kai. File Photo: CUHK.

Lau told an RTHK radio programme on Monday that he was uncertain whether opposition to the national security law – as detailed in Article 23 of the Basic Law – could be a factor for disqualification.

“For example, some said Article 23 is an evil law. It’s easy to make people think you do not respect the Basic Law,” he said. “But will these people be disqualified in the future? Now, I cannot say for certain.”

Its legislation was shelved in 2003 amid mass protests.

Lau added that it should be “basically safe” if the reason for opposition does not involve advocacy for separation of the country, since China has a relatively loose attitude over the law.

“It may be problematic if you oppose the legislation, saying that Hong Kong has no responsibility to protect national security,” Lau said. “But if you are just saying that it is not the right time to legislate or some specific terms are against the spirit of Hong Kong’s rule of law or values, it may not be problematic.”

Moving goalposts

Pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow was barred from the 2018 legislative by-election over her affiliation with Demosisto, which advocates self-determination. The idea is treated by Beijing as equal to advocating Hong Kong independence. Two other candidates – Ventus Lau and James Chan – were deemed to be independence advocates by an election officer, despite their denials.

Lau said Chow’s disqualification was reasonable as self-determination is akin to rejecting China’s sovereignty.

A banner against Article 23 security law. Photo: HKFP/Ellie Ng.

Democratic Party Chairperson Wu Chi-wai said Lau Siu-kai’s remarks suggested he wanted all politicians to self-censor and that Beijing wished to control the direction of public discourse: “The political red line [of Beijing] will never have a model answer… The goalpost is being moved as they wish.”

Wu said democrats will continue asking the central government to implement “One Country, Two Systems” well.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung said Lau’s remarks were “ridiculous and dangerous.”

“He is damaging the central government,” Yeung said.

On Tuesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the law was clear that returning officers – district officers who temporarily handle administrative election matters – make the final decisions over the eligibility of candidates.

She added the government would consider carefully if there was a need to clarify the rules to the Legislative Council. She also said the government will consider court judgments since relevant judicial reviews are ongoing.

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.