Hong Kong leader John Lee has said that Article 23 – the city’s own security law – would “definitely” be enacted within this year, or next year at the latest.

John Lee
Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee attends a press conference on May 2, 2023. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The chief executive told Hong Kong China News Agency in an interview on Wednesday that he was an “impatient” person but that he also needed to be cautious: “With this legislation, I hope the entire process will consist of careful and thorough considerations, resulting in a successful law,” he said.

Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, stipulates that Hong Kong shall enact its own laws to prohibit seven types of offences: treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government, theft of state secrets, foreign bodies’ conducting political activities in the city, and local bodies establishing ties with foreign bodies.

Such laws would be separate from Beijing’s national security law, which was passed in June 2020 after the year-long protests and unrest over a controversial extradition law. The security law, the enactment of which bypassed local legislature, criminalises secession, subversion, foreign collusion and terrorism.

The government has said that a local security law was needed to plug “gaps” in the Beijing-imposed legislation.

National security law
A national security law advertisement in an MTR station. File photo: GovHK.

Lee said the city was examining the security laws of other jurisdictions, which are “strict” because “everybody knows their enemies are highly skilled.”

“[Beijing’s national] security law consists of four crimes, and Article 23 consists of seven… compared to other countries’ national security laws, Hong Kong [would] only have 11 crimes. That’s a far cry [from other places],” Lee added.

The legislation of Article 23 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 Justice Paul Lam said in an interview with RTHK this week that the government had made “progress” in the legislation of Article 23. He said a “taskforce” was overseeing the work on an “ongoing manner,” and that it was difficult to talk specifically about the details until the work was completed.

One year in office

Lee’s interview with the Hong Kong China News Agency coincided with the lead up to the end of his first year in office. The former police officer was selected, unopposed, last May after the city overhauled its election systems, allowing only those deemed “patriotic” to run.

John Lee election
Chief Executive John Lee on election day in May 2022. Photo: Almond Li/HKFP.

After his election by a small circle of elites, Chinese leader Xi Jinping told Lee during a meeting in Beijing that the Central government fully endorsed him. Xi added that Lee had a “firm stance in loving [the] country and Hong Kong.”

Reflecting on the past year, Lee said that while the workload was heavy, it was of “significant importance.”

“Every decision could affect Hong Kong’s population of seven million. Every decision has to be made with thorough consideration and caution,” he said.

The hardest part of his work, he added, was “finding time.”

“We have to be active. We cannot be negligent, [and we must] chase time and results with the hope of achieving the maximum return for Hong Kong in the shortest possible time,” Lee said.

Chief Executive's Office
Chief Executive’s Office. Photo: GovHK.

Ahead of the upcoming anniversary of Hong Kong’s Handover from Britain to China next weekend, Lee was asked if he believed Hong Kong had changed.

Lee said the city’s governance model, One Country, Two Systems, had stayed the same. The framework, put into place in 1997 when Hong Kong became a Special Administrative Region of China, guaranteed the city a high degree of autonomy and rights not found across the border.

What had changed, he added, was that Hong Kong was now more united after “setting things right” after disorder. The city had experienced two years of “black riots,” Lee said.

Whilst the authorities say the security law has restored stability and peace to the city after the 2019 protests and unrest, the move gave police sweeping new powers, alarming democrats, civil society groups and trade partners. Most opposition figures are behind bars, in self-exile abroad, or have quit politics, whilst sensitive books have been pulled from libraries, newsrooms have been raided and dozens of civil society groups has disbanded.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.