Beijing’s proposed resolution for a national security law for Hong Kong was amended on Tuesday in an unexpected move that expanded its scope to prohibit “activities” that would “seriously endanger national security”, sources told the Post.
The first amendment to the resolution came as the city braced for mass protest action, with opposition groups planning to start on Tuesday night itself, ahead of Wednesday’s Legislative Council debate on another contentious bill that would make it a criminal offence to insult the national anthem.
Students were planning to boycott classes, and labour unions supporting the anti-government movement called for a general strike, while activists online urged protesters to block roads and disrupt traffic to frustrate the authorities.
As police said they would be out in force to prevent chaos, the official Xinhua news agency confirmed that an amendment to the resolution, presented by its constitution and law committee, had been endorsed by its chairmen’s council led by National People’s Congress (NPC) chairman Li Zhanshu on Tuesday.
No details were given, but sources told the Post the resolution would now suggest that the proposed law – which has sparked concerns about its implications for the city’s existing freedoms – would not only just prevent, stop and punish “acts” but also “activities” deemed to threaten national security.
The resolution is set to be put to a vote on Thursday, which would then be forwarded to the NPC Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, to craft the bill in detail.
One source told the Post that Hong Kong deputies to the NPC who supported the amendment outnumbered those against it.
One of those who opposed it, pro-business lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun, questioned what this would mean for people taking part in protests that suddenly turned violent.
Hong Kong needs national security law because it is ‘easy target for hostile foreign opportunists’: former leader Tung Chee-hwa
“The restriction should not be more stringent than Article 23,” he said, referring to the part of the city’s mini-constitution requiring it to enact its own national security legislation, which is now being superseded as Beijing takes matters into its own hands to get it done.
Another source who attended the meeting asked if many Hongkongers joining the city’s annual June 4 candlelit vigil to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown would run afoul of the law, and voiced concerns the change would provoke fear in the city.
Lau Siu-Kai, vice-chairman of semi-official Beijing think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau studies, said the amendment expanding “acts” to “activities” reflected the wishes of other mainland delegations for the law to target what was necessary.
“For me, I think ‘acts’ is good enough, as that already includes individual behaviour and even speech,” Lau said.
Professor Simon Young Ngai-man, of the University of Hong Kong’s law school, said the amendment could highlight an open category which could be “potentially expansive”.
But Basic Law Committee member Albert Chen Hung-yee, a constitutional law expert at HKU, believed the “minor” amendment would not make a substantive difference.
“It is very common for the NPC to make amendments to the decisions as they do not want to be a ‘rubber stamp’,” said Chen.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday rejected criticisms that the new law would have significant negative consequences for the city’s economy, pointing out Western democracies had enacted similar laws without scaring investors away.
She sought to reassure residents the law would not infringe on their rights and freedoms, echoing recent promises by state leaders that it would target only a minority of radicals.
Addressing concerns about the possibility of mainland national security agents being allowed to operate in Hong Kong, Lam said they would still have to abide by the city’s laws.
“Law enforcement agencies … must not affect the basic rights and freedoms that residents enjoy under [local] law,” she said.
Hong Kong officials and pro-Beijing politicians have appealed for calm over the central government’s plan to bypass the local legislature and craft its own national security law for the city.
Under the plan, revealed on Friday, the NPC Standing Committee will propose a law to prohibit acts of secession, subversion, terrorism or conspiring with foreign influences in Hong Kong.
The new law will also require the local government to set up new institutions to safeguard sovereignty while allowing mainland agencies to operate in the city as needed.
Lam on Tuesday dismissed as “untrue” suggestions that the NPC Standing Committee had no legal authority to craft such a law for Hong Kong, that it was undermining the principle of “one country, two systems”, and that the law would destroy the city’s status as a global financial hub.
“The NPC Standing Committee’s decision to make the law only targets four types of acts that threaten national security … and criminals who do these. In other words, it protects the majority of law-abiding and peace-loving Hong Kong residents,” Lam insisted.
“Many countries around the world, including Western democracies, have such laws, and those laws do not scare away investors. Why would such negative consequences happen in Hong Kong, a special administrative region and an inseparable territory under the People’s Republic of China?”
Lam’s remarks came hours before Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah published her latest blog entry, warning against “wrong claims” that Beijing’s decision trampled on the one country, two systems principle and was in breach of the Basic Law.
Cheng said while Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution required the Hong Kong government to enact national security legislation on its own, “such authorisation clearly does not preclude the Central Authorities from introducing a national security legislation”.
“Unfortunately, some have apparently and perhaps misguidedly tried to smear and vilify … the national security legislation to be enacted by the NPC Standing Committee as representing ‘the death of one country, two systems’. Such an assertion does not stand legal scrutiny,” Cheng argued.
On Monday, the Hong Kong Bar Association published a strongly worded statement questioning whether Beijing had the legal authority to promulgate a national security law from above.
Thousands of Hong Kong residents took to the streets on Sunday to oppose the impending law, and acts of violence and vandalism were committed by radical protesters.
But Lam argued that Hongkongers’ view of Beijing’s plan was largely positive.
“I am glad to see that many residents are very supportive of this work, and fully understand Beijing’s plan,” she said.
As part of a PR campaign to drum up support for the new law, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung, Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po, and at least six ministers popped up at street booths on Tuesday to add their names to a signature campaign backing Beijing’s move.
In a statement the same day, the Hong Kong Association of Banks said a stable business environment was vital for the sustainable development of the city as an international financial centre.
The association said the announcement of more details about the national security law and its enforcement would strengthen investors’ confidence and allow commerce as well as other sectors to pick up growth momentum.
Hong Kong Monetary Authority chief executive Eddie Yue Wai-man on Tuesday said the proposed law “will not bring any changes to the fundamentals of our monetary and financial system”.
In a column posted on the authority’s website, Yue stressed that the “free flow of capital and free convertibility of the Hong Kong dollar”, would remain intact, as would the peg to the US dollar.
Despite the recent volatility in the stock market, he said the markets had been operating smoothly and there had not been noticeable signs of fund outflows “from either the Hong Kong dollar or banking system”.
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More from South China Morning Post:
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