Saying the move is necessary because of “barbaric and gross interference from foreign governments and politicians in China’s internal affairs,” Hong Kong is preparing to add a new National Security Law on top of the existing 2020 version.
The Hong Kong government has started a public consultation until February 28 for the legislation of a new National Security Law, which covers five offenses including treason, sedition, theft of state secrets, sabotage activities and external interference.
The government reportedly targets to have the new law passed before the current legislative term ends in July.
In a consultation paper issued on Tuesday, it said the existing National Security Law, which targets four types of offenses, including secession, subversion, terrorist activities and collusion with foreign powers, cannot fully cope with national security risks faced by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) in recent years.
It also said some external forces have subsidized local organizations to launch various kinds of so-called resistance activities under the guises of “fighting for rights” and “monitoring of human rights.”
It said the forces seeking to endanger the security of China and Hong Kong have continued to make use of so-called artistic creations released through media including publications, music, films, arts and culture, and online games, as a disguise to disseminate messages that promote resistance against the central and Hong Kong governments, advocate “Hong Kong independence” or subvert Chinese state power using a “soft resistance” approach.
According to the proposed law, the secretary for security will have the power to prohibit for national security reasons, by order published in the Gazette, the operation of any “political organizations and bodies” in Hong Kong.
Ronny Tong, an Executive Council member, said on January 26 that the definition of political organizations will be a key discussion topic for the Article 23 legislation.
He said there will be no controversy about classifying such obvious candidates as the United States’ Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) as political organizations, but whether organizations such as the National Democratic Institute (NDI), Greenpeace and Amnesty International should be that classification will depend on their behavior.
The newly-proposed legislation will forbid espionage activities in Hong Kong. The consultation paper said the definition of “state secrets” will fall into three classifications: top secret, secret and confidential.
According to the Law of the People’s Republic of China on Guarding State Secrets, state secrets include secret matters concerning fields such as economic and social development, technological development and scientific technology – for example, China’s development in aerospace technology and deep-sea exploration.
The consultation paper said the disclosure of such information, which is likely to jeopardize State security and national interests in fields such as politics, the economy, national defense and foreign affairs, will be forbidden.
Hong Kong’s business sector has mixed views on this proposal, which echoes China’s anti-espionage law as amended last April.
“As we are living in an increasingly geo-political world, it is essential that Hong Kong has a robust National Security Law framework in place to safeguard our interests,” the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce says in a statement.
It says that, following the events of 2019, it believes most people support strengthening Hong Kong’s national security legislation.
“Explaining the bill in a clear and open manner would dispel any concerns that they might have and debunk any misinformation or claims that it could jeopardize the interests of Hong Kong,” it adds.
“I think it is too early today to say what specific effect Article 23 will have,” said Johannes Hack, president of the German Chamber of Commerce.
He was quoted as saying in a RTHK report that “only time can tell” what sort of impact Article 23 legislation will have on businesses in Hong Kong.
The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said in its annual business sentiment survey on Tuesday that two-thirds of respondents thought reduced rhetoric from both the US and Hong Kong on the topic of national security would help improve relations.
The survey, conducted between November 16 and December 29 last year, showed that the proportion of respondents that had been negatively impacted by the existing National Security Law fell to 31% from 38% a year earlier. It said 79% and 82% of its members expressed confidence in Hong Kong’s rule of law and data freedom, respectively.
July 1 demonstration
In September 2002, the Hong Kong government published a consultation document on proposals to implement Article 23 of the Basic Law.
In February 2003, the government introduced the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill, which covered offenses of treason, subversion, secession and sedition and allowed the prohibition of unauthorized disclosure of certain official information and the proscription of certain organizations that threaten national security.
After half a million of people rallied on the streets on July 1 of the same year, the pro-business Liberal Party gave up supporting the bill, resulting in the government’s withdrawal of the bill.
After the 2019 protests in Hong Kong, the National People’s Congress passed the National Security Law for the city on June 30, 2020. On July 14 of the same year, then US President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act to sanction those who contributed to the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy. He also signed an executive order to end the special status given to Hong Kong under US law.
The British government in January 2021 launched a British National (Overseas) citizenship scheme for Hong Kong people to move to the UK.
The Hong Kong government said Tuesday a new National Security Law is important as “there are unstable factors in the global situation coupled with increasingly complex geopolitics and rising unilateralism.”
“After the color revolution and black riot in 2019, we all understand the importance of national security, and that risks to national security are serious, real and can be unexpected,” Chief Executive John Lee said Tuesday. “Also, the geopolitical situation is getting more complicated. We must remedy this shortcoming as soon as possible.”
Secretary for Security Chris Tang said the new National Security Law will include extraterritorial powers. Tang said acts and activities endangering national security, regardless of whether they are carried out in or outside of Hong Kong, would be punished.
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