Act in accordance with law, Chinese government tells Hong Kong leaders as independence row rumbles on

Sum Lok-kei
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Act in accordance with law, Chinese government tells Hong Kong leaders as independence row rumbles on

China’s top state leader in charge of Hong Kong affairs has urged the local government to act “in accordance with the law” to deal with a pro-independence party, even as the city’s leader ruled out immediately laying the groundwork to enact national security legislation.

Security minister John Lee Ka-chiu on Tuesday said Vice-Premier Han Zheng had himself raised the issue with a 120-strong delegation of law enforcement officials from the city, telling them Beijing would show zero tolerance for independence advocacy and any attempt to threaten its sovereignty in Hong Kong.

Lee is currently deciding whether to act on an unprecedented proposal from police to ban the Hong Kong National Party (HKNP) as a threat to national security. The party has until September 11 to submit arguments to justify its existence.

“I did not mention a particular case when introducing our work in Hong Kong,” Lee said. “But indeed, when the vice-premier touched on the problem of Hong Kong independence, he told us to act in accordance with the law when dealing with the HKNP case.”

Lee said he would act strictly in accordance with Section 8 of the Societies Ordinance, which authorises the security minister to ban a society if he deems it “necessary in the interests of national security or public safety, public order or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others”.

This came as Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said there was no need for the city to follow neighbouring Macau’s example in setting up a national security committee.

The Macau government, which introduced its own legislation against offences such as treason, secession, sedition and subversion back in 2009, announced on Monday it would set up a panel next month to oversee its policies protecting national security.

“Our primary responsibility is to find the right opportunity and create the necessary conditions for us to put into effect the local legislation, before we need a committee to ensure the legislation is being effectively enforced,” Lam said.

Like Macau’s mini-constitution, Hong Kong’s Basic Law, under Article 23, requires the local administration to enact its own national security laws.

“Hong Kong has not yet taken this step,” Lam noted. She acknowledged that Hongkongers were worried about such laws in the city, but reminded them “the task cannot be avoided”.

“Some works are in progress, so it is a question of when to launch [Article 23],” she said.

The last attempt by the government to introduce the legislation in 2003 was shelved after half a million citizens took to the streets in protest, worried about losing their civil liberties.

Ex-ministers urge Hong Kong to stress city’s judicial independence

Lee also stressed the government would not evade its “constitutional obligation” to eventually act on Article 23.

Independence advocacy became the talk of the town earlier this month when the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) hosted a talk by HKNP leader Andy Chan Ho-tin, who declared that breaking away from China was the only solution for Hong Kong.

Zhang Xiaoming, who heads the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said Chan and the FCC’s actions had exposed Hong Kong’s “inadequacies” in upholding national security.

Those actions also led to renewed calls for Article 23 legislation from the city’s pro-Beijing camp, although Zhang stopped short of urging officials to get moving on it.

Chan on Tuesday accused Han of meddling in local internal affairs and putting pressure on the government ahead of its decision on the proposed ban.

“The central government has always warned other countries not to intervene in Hong Kong's affairs, but now Beijing is doing exactly what it has opposed,” he said.

Chan expected his party to be banned in the end, calling it “a political decision after all”.

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