The new Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang said on Thursday that the enactment of Hong Kong’s controversial national security law is only “a matter of time,” while the national anthem law is set to proceed in the legislature once the row over the House Committee chairperson election is settled.

Speaking to the press a day after his appointment, Tsang said the passing of Article 23 of the Basic Law – which allows the local government to enact its own national security laws – would happen “when the timing is right.”

Erick Tsang. Photo: inmediahk.net.

“Article 23 is a constitutional duty of the HKSAR, you have to complete the local enactment sooner or later. It is not a matter of whether it should be done, it is a matter of when,” Tsang said, adding that he would speed up the promotion of the Basic Law.

Article 23 stipulates that the Hong Kong government shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government. Its legislation failed in 2003 following mass protests. The government has always had enough votes to pass the law, but it has never been raised since the 2003 debacle. Pro-democracy advocates fear it could have a negative effect on civil liberties.

Tsang also backed the controversial legislation that criminalises insulting of the national anthem. The mainland affairs minister said he hoped the Legislative Council could settle the dispute over electing the House Committee chairperson on its own, so that the second reading of the national anthem law could be resumed.

Beijing office row

Tsang, who used to lead the Immigration Department, replaced former head of the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau Patrick Nip amid a row over the constitutional status of Beijing’s agencies in Hong Kong, and whether they had the power to supervise matters in the city.

Photo: May James/HKFP.

Tsang defended the remarks made by the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the liaison office, who repeatedly slammed pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok as violating his oath and guilty of misconduct in office. However, he did not directly address whether Article 22 of the Basic Law – which bars interference of Beijing’s departments in Hong Kong’s internal affairs – was applicable to the offices.

“[The liaison office] is representing the Central People’s Government to oversee the implementation of the Basic Law and One Country, Two Systems in Hong Kong. It’s reasonable for them to make such a comment,” he said.

He also dismissed claims that he was a Beijing loyalist, after a plate with a portrait of Chinese leader Xi Jinping was spotted in his office in an interview he did with Bauhinia Magazine in March.

A plate with a portrait of Xi Jinping in Erick Tsang’s office. File Photo: Bauhinia Magazine screenshot.

“It’s just a decoration in my office, there is no need to read too much into it,” he said.

2020 Legislative Council Election

Tsang told reporters on Thursday that he would begin the preparation work for the upcoming elections, including the Legislative Council election that was tentatively set to take place on September 6.

Responding to speculation that the government would disqualify more pro-democracy candidates, Tsang brushed off the allegations as “conspiracy theories.”

“Any disqualification will be done according to the law. If you meet the conditions for becoming a candidate, then how I can disqualify you, right?,” Tsang asked.

Members of Electoral Affairs Commission. Photo: GovHK.

He added: “As long as they uphold the Basic Law and support the SAR government, there is absolutely no problem.”

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.