President of the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) Keith Richburg has called the renewal of its lease a “huge relief.” The current tenancy period of the clubhouse, located in a historic Central building, was set to expire in January. However, the government confirmed it had offered a new three-year lease – with added “standard” clauses regarding national security – to the FCC.
“I’m very pleased to know we have a new lease on our Clubhouse. Removing the uncertainty will be a huge relief to our hardworking and loyal staff, and also to our members,” Richburg told HKFP.
Richburg also said that “there was never any reason” for the government to not renew the lease.
“We’ve been good tenants and good custodians of our historic building, we’ve been good employers to our staff, and we’re a part of the fabric of Hong Kong,” he added.
A government spokesperson told HKFP on Wednesday that the lease had been renewed for three years at market rate, beginning in January.
The current lease of the FCC, which is located at the Old Dairy Farm Depot on Lower Albert Road began in January 2016 and was set for seven years.
“The duration of renewal is in line with the Government’s new leasing policy of setting duration of the tenancies of all historic buildings let out by the Government Property Agency to not more than three years,” the government spokesperson said.
“This allows a certain degree of flexibility in the use of these historic buildings, and meets the Government’s policy and objectives and the development needs of Hong Kong better at different times.”
The spokesperson also said that new “standard clauses” were introduced to the lease “to safeguard national security and to sufficiently protect the Government’s rights and interests.”
When asked about the new national security clause, Richburg said that the lease could be terminated “on national security grounds.”
“Since we don’t plan on violating national security or any other Hong Kong law, that [provision] does not seem problematic,” the FCC president said.
The press club, which hosts members including foreign journalists and financiers, came under under fire for inviting pro-independence activist Andy Chan to speak at a panel event in August 2018.
Then-vice-president of the FCC Victor Mallet, who chaired the talk that Chan was speaking at, was refused a work visa renewal in October that year.
Following the implementation of the national security law, the club cancelled this year’s Human Rights Press Awards, citing “significant areas of uncertainty” under the law.
It was later revealed that Stand News, a defunct pro-democracy outlet whose editors have been charged under the colonial-era sedition law, was set to receive nine accolades before the event was axed.
The sweeping security legislation, enacted in June 2020, criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts, which were broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure.
The move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners, as such laws have been used broadly to silence and punish dissidents in China.
However, the government said the law has restored stability and peace to the city. Chief Executive John Lee has said on several occasions that press freedom was “in the pocket” of Hong Kong people, but journalists would have to adhere to the law when carrying out their work.
Ex-lawmaker and former journalist Emily Lau also said on Wednesday that it was a “relief” that the FCC’s lease had been renewed.
“If [the lease] were not renewed, it would have sent a really bad message to Hong Kong and international society, many people would have beeen worried,” Lau, who is a member of the FCC, said.
The ex-Democratic Party chair also said she hoped that local and international journalists in the city would not feel pressured, as society wanted journalists to be able do their work “independently and freely.”
“Of course I hope that the government will not give them pressure, too,” said Lau.