New recruits who joined the Hong Kong government after the enactment of the national security law will be asked to declare allegiance to the city. Those who violate the loyalty pledge may be seen as having an intent to “subvert” the government, a top official has said.

Speaking on Commercial Radio on Saturday, Secretary for Civil Service Patrick Nip announced that the authorities will issue a notice to each department on Monday. It will demand that workers who joined the government on – or after – July 1 sign a statement or take an oath to confirm they will uphold the Basic Law and swear allegiance to the HKSAR.

Photo: GovHK.

The new requirement came after dozens of civil servants were arrested in connection with last year’s anti-extradition bill protests. Last month, Nip revealed that 46 government staffers have been suspended for allegedly taking part in “illegal activities.”

Nip said on Saturday that there would be a “relatively high threshold” for public servants found to be breaching the oath – an offence he described as a “very serious matter.” Those who are not loyal to the semi-autonomous region and its mini-constitution could be seen as not supporting One Country, Two Systems, or disagreeing with the idea of Hong Kong being part of China.

“Does it mean you don’t support One Country, Two Systems? Or don’t completely accept this government, or have an intent to subvert the existing government?” he asked.

Patrick Nip on Commercial Radio on October 10, 2020. Photo: iCable screenshot.

Subversion is now criminalised in Hong Kong under the Beijing-imposed national security law, which also bans secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which are broadly defined to include disruption to public transport and other infrastructure.

Nip said that, in cases of serious violations – such as a breach of the security legislation – the civil servant concerned would be sacked immediately and barred from taking up public office.

The civil service minister said that, during the process of policy-making, government staffers could “actively participate” by expressing views and giving suggestions through different channels. But once the polices were implemented, they should respect the mechanism and help the authorities promote and explain the new measures.

“I can hardly imagine how an employee can be working here and publicly slamming their boss at the same time,” he said.

Hong Kong civil servants organise a pro-democracy rally in 2019. Photo: May James.

The government would extend the loyalty pledge to cover all 180,000 civil servants in stages, Nip said, with those on probation being the next batch to sign the declaration.

Speaking to Ming Pao, pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting criticised Nip’s remarks as “blowing things out of proportion.” He questioned whether civil servants would have to be “yes-men,” and raised concerns that public broadcaster RTHK may not be allowed to present diverse voices.

On Sunday, Nip clarified his comment, saying he did not imply public servants may have subversive intent if they breach the oath. He said that not accepting One Country Two Systems or not acknowledging the city as part of China were examples of behaviour that would defy the declaration.

“Civil servants are the backbone of the SAR government… personal thoughts or political beliefs should not affect [their] work, and [they] should not express discontent or sing a different tune publicly,” Nip wrote on Facebook.

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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.