Threats to national security still “lurk” in Hong Kong society, Chief Executive John Lee has warned. Meanwhile, the city’s security chief said Beijing’s top official on Hong Kong affairs had reminded local authorities to “prepare for danger in times of peace.”

John Lee National Security Education Day 2023
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee attends the opening ceremony of the 2023 National Security Education Day on April 15, 2023. Photo: GovHK.

Hong Kong must not underestimate the risks to national security as the world experienced a “major upheaval” with geopolitical tensions and rapid changes in international relations, Lee said on Saturday at the opening ceremony of the National Security Education Day.

The city’s leader claimed that “external hostile forces” continued to “spread rumours, smear campaigns and stir up trouble” in Hong Kong. Although the city had largely returned to stability following the enactment of the national security law, a minority of “anti-China and anti-Hong Kong elements” continued to operate underground and were waiting for opportunities to “strike back.”

“Some people have been arrested recently for openly inciting violence online, which indicates that these threats to national security are still lurking in various parts of society,” Lee said.

John Lee National Security Education Day 2023
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee attends the opening ceremony of the 2023 National Security Education Day on April 15, 2023. Photo: GovHK.

On Monday, pro-establishment groups Federation of New Territories Youth and Youth Vision HK released results from an online survey which found that 70.6 per cent of the 2,412 respondents believed Hong Kong still faced national security risks. The questionnaire conducted between April 13 to 16 also found that 77.8 per cent of the respondents believed there was a need to pass Article 23 of the Basic Law.

Article 23 of the Basic Law 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.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang told the press on Sunday that Xia Baolong, the director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO), had said the city was “moving from chaos to governance,” and “from governance to prosperity.”

The Chinese official, who began a six-day visit in Hong Kong last Thursday, also affirmed and supported the work of the city’s disciplined services, Tang said following a closed-door meeting with Xia.

“He reminded us to be vigilant and aware that situations endangering national security or Hong Kong’s security still exist, and that we must be prepared for danger in times of peace,” Tang cited Xia as saying.

In a separate television programme produced by public broadcaster RTHK, Tang said new measures had to be rolled out to cope with various challenges to national security.

Chris Tang
Secretary for Security Chris Tang (first from right) appears in an episode of NSL Chronicles II, aired by public broadcaster RTHK on April 16, 2023. Photo: RTHK YouTube screenshot.

The government plans to pass laws to regulate crowd-funding, as well as formulate new legislation to protect the cybersecurity of key infrastructures, he said.

Tang also backed the use of a colonial-era sedition law in prosecuting those who were deemed to have incited hatred against the government. The minister pointed to the case of activist Tam Tak-chi, saying the court ruled that the relevant provisions adhered to the requirements set out in the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.

The security chief also mentioned five speech therapists who were convicted over publishing a series of illustrated books about sheep that were said to have “brainwashed” young readers. The case showed that “incorrect messages” could fuel disaffection of the government, lead to social instability and even endanger national security he said.

“Therefore the offence of sedition was necessary,” he said.

In June 2020, Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – bypassing the local legislature – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It 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 authorities say it has restored stability and peace to the city.

Sedition is not covered by the Beijing-imposed national security law, which targets secession, subversion, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts and mandates up to life imprisonment. Those convicted under the sedition law – last amended in the 1970s when Hong Kong was still a British colony – face a maximum penalty of two years in prison.

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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.