Leader Carrie Lam proclaimed a “new era” for Hong Kong under the Beijing-drafted national security law on Wednesday, vowing to press ahead with the city’s locally-enacted security legislation and to strengthen law enforcement to tackle perceived threats.
Lam, making the last policy address in a term of office marked by unprecedented protests, proposed new initiatives to thwart supposed threats to national security, including strengthening measures to “combat local terrorism” and bolstering cyber and data security.
Other legislation, including laws to criminalise “fake news,” hate speech and insults to public officers will also be considered by the Home Affairs Department.
The Security Bureau will be tasked with bolstering police counter-terrorism capabilities through better training and infrastructure and new technologies such as artificial intelligence and big data, according to her policy address.
The bureau will also step up intelligence collection work and focus on enforcement measures targeting speech and comments which advocate violence or incite terrorism.
Since the implementation of the security law in June 2020, activists aged as young as 15 have been arrested on suspected terrorism charges or for advocating violence online. Four student leaders at the University of Hong Kong have been charged with “advocating terrorism” over a declaration of sympathy for a man who attacked a police officer, whilst one man is on trial purely for speeches and social media posts.
More than 150 people overall have been arrested under the law, which prescribes a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
The national security law and a electoral overhaul ordered by Beijing “have ushered in a new era whereby it is time for us to strive ahead with renewed perseverance and plan for the future of Hong Kong,” she said.
The policy address also cited upcoming legislation, including the Film Censorship Bill and amendments to the Regional Flag and Emblem Ordinance in accordance with the National Flag and Emblem Ordinance, as necessary for the protection of national security.
‘Greatest honour, biggest challenge’
In her 202-page policy blueprint for the end of her five-year term, Lam provided an overview of her four previous years in office, saying 96 per cent of her 900-odd policy initiatives had either been implemented or were on schedule. She has not said whether she will seek another term in an election next March.
The chief executive defended her performance record as she nears the end of her five-year-term next June, calling it both the “greatest honour” and the “biggest challenge” of her life due to “unprecedented pressure” from the 2019 anti-extradition bill protests and the Covid-19 pandemic.
She cited what she claimed as the “incessant and gross interference in Hong Kong affairs by external forces,” without elaborating.
Mass, peaceful demonstrations erupted in mid-2019 against Lam’s plans to introduce an extradition bill with mainland China, which many saw as an erosion of Hong Kong’s promised autonomy. The protests degenerated into sometimes violent clashes between young protesters and police, and saw around 10,200 people arrested.
Authorities have since sought to cast the unrest as “riots” funded by foreign governments, adopting Beijing-style language of “external forces” meddling in the country’s “internal affairs.”
During her closing statement on her last policy address, Lam appeared to hold back tears when speaking about the support of the central government and her family.
“The driving force backing me up in overcoming all these challenges comes from the earnest words of the Central Government, that it will always provide staunch support to Hong Kong, my pledge to always stand by the side of the people of Hong Kong when I took office, and the unfailing trust and support of my family,” she said.