Hong Kong should never forget the “alarm bell” of the 2019 anti-extradition bill unrest and the harm it brought to the city, Chief Executive John Lee has said as he vowed to crack down on “hostile and destructive forces.”

John Lee
Chief Executive John Lee. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

Hong Kong must maintain its “hard-won” stability, with the administrative, legislative and judicial branches of the government making every effort to safeguard national security, Lee told the press on Tuesday after sending off Beijing’s point man on Hong Kong affairs who had concluded a six-day visit to the city.

In summarising the trip by Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO), Lee said it fully reflected the concerns and importance the central government and the official attached to the city. Xia also expressed confidence in Hong Kong’s future, and gave full recognition of the work done by Lee and his administration over the past nine months, the chief executive said.

Xia met with Hong Kong officials, lawmakers, local delegates to China’s top political consultative body, and representatives from the legal, business and finance, and education sectors, including students, among others. Most meeting were held behind closed doors. The HKMAO chief also interacted with residents, Lee said, and made a “deep impression” with his “amiable manner.”

The Beijing official joined the opening ceremony of the National Security Education Day last Saturday, where he gave a keynote speech and described the mass protests in 2019 as having left a “permanent scar” on the city. He also remarked that protesting was “not the only way” for people to express their views.

Xia Baolong HKU
Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council Xia Baolong (third right), accompanied by Chief Executive John Lee (second right), visited the University of Hong Kong on April 18. Photo: GovHK.

Lee on Tuesday said the HKMAO director reminded Hong Kong that it must not forget the damage caused by the unrest, which Xia called the local version of a “colour revolution.” Although the city was largely stable now, elements of society could easily be “hijacked,” the chief executive quoted Xia as saying.

“We should always remember this alarm bell,” Lee said.

“We cannot relax our efforts against hostile and destructive forces and must crack down on them severely,” he added.

Last Saturday, Xia warned against a “resurgence of street violence” and said the root causes of disorder had not been eradicated. He expressed support for Hong Kong to “enhance” its judicial and legal system, including completing the legislation work for the controversial Article 23 of the Basic Law.

Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that the government shall enact laws on its own to prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against Beijing. Its legislation failed in 2003 following mass protests and it was not tabled again until after the onset of the separate, Beijing-imposed security law in 2020. Pro-democracy advocates fear it could have a negative effect on civil liberties.

A flag-raising ceremony to celebrare National Security Education Day at the Hong Kong Police College on April 15, 2021. Photo: GovHK.
File photo: GovHK.

In response to questions on the legislative timetable of Article 23, Lee on Tuesday said his administration would strive to finish the relevant work this year at the earliest, and no later than next year.

The chief executive was also asked if the city would organise a District Council election by the end of the year, or whether a majority of the seats in the 18 councils would be appointed as speculated.

The district-level government advisory body was flagged by Xia last Saturday, when he said the city must not allow the councils not be “manipulated by anti-China and anti-Hong Kong separatists.”

The pro-democracy camp once controlled the district councils following their landslide victory in the 2019 election. But more than 260 councillors resigned or were ousted in 2021 over a new requirement of swearing allegiance to the government.

Lee said he was actively working with various departments to analyse different measures for the district council. The government would inform the public when a decision was made, he said.

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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.