The Hong Kong government has said it deeply regrets that the Foreign Correspondents’ Club hosted a speech by pro-independence activist Andy Chan on Tuesday. The talk went ahead amid protests outside the club’s Central premises, despite organisers coming under pressure from the Chinese foreign ministry in Hong Kong.

Chan’s Hong Kong National Party is facing a government ban, whilst former chief executive Leung Chun-ying has attacked the club for hosting him.

Andy Chan. Photo: Pool/SCMP.

Soon after the event, the government issued a statement saying that it was “totally inappropriate and unacceptable for any organisation to provide a public platform to espouse such views.”

In Pictures: Hong Kong is ‘being annexed and destroyed by China’, says independence activist Andy Chan

It said advocating independence “is a blatant violation of the Basic Law and a direct affront to the national sovereignty, security and territorial integrity of the People’s Republic of China.”

“Such advocacy runs counter to the successful implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ and undermines the HKSAR’s constitutional and legal foundations as enshrined in the Basic Law,” it said.

The government added that it “attaches great importance to freedom of the press and freedom of speech, which underpin the success of Hong Kong as an open, vibrant, pluralistic and international city.”

“These are protected by the Basic Law. But such freedoms are not absolute and have to be exercised in accordance with the law.”

See also: Video: In full – Activist Andy Chan says Hong Kong independence is the only path to democracy at press club talk

Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung spoke to reporters on Tuesday afternoon and reiterated the government’s stance: “The Hong Kong government has a constitutional duty to uphold national sovereignty and protect national security,” he said.

Cheung said he listened to Chan’s speech, but declined to comment on it.

Cheung also said that the FCC has a seven-year lease with the government, which is due for renewal in January 2023. He said that the lease requires the FCC to follow Hong Kong’s laws, and that there was “no problem” with the lease.

Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“[The government] has a very cordial relationship with the FCC, and I’m sure this relationship will continue,” Cheung said. “I don’t see any disruption.”

When asked about the legislation of Basic Law Article 23 – Hong Kong’s national security law – Cheung said that the situation with the FCC and Article 23 are separate matters.

He urged the public not to put the focus on the FCC, adding that similar incidents bring no benefit to the people of Hong Kong, and he hoped they would not occur again.

Gov’t condemnation ‘not enough’

A group of 32 pro-Beijing lawmakers issued a joint statement strongly condemning the FCC for hosting Chan’s talk. It said that the talk threatened national security and sovereignty, and the FCC was using free speech as an excuse.

Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“Reporting and providing a platform are completely different,” said lawmaker Priscilla Leung. “Tomorrow, maybe the FCC will invite activists for Taiwan independence, or Tibetan independence.”

Leung added that the government’s statement was not enough, and a concrete response was needed. The joint statement urged the government to immediately review the lease of the FCC’s premises, and to consider taking back the property.

DAB lawmaker Wong Ting-kwong claimed that the FCC was controlled by a small group of people who “repeatedly provoke the Hong Kong government and test its bottom line.”

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.