Pro-establishment Hong Kong lawmaker Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee said the cases of two opposition activists, Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Agnes Chow Ting, would determine whether more laws need to be passed to close loopholes in the national security law that Beijing imposed this year.
Wong, 24, and Chow, 23, were remanded in custody at West Kowloon Court on Monday after pleading guilty over their roles in a 15-hour siege of Hong Kong’s police headquarters during the anti-government protests last year.
But they may not serve time after court proceedings are finalised, Ip said in an online debate with former US assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs Daniel Russel.
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The exchange was part of a series organised by the Washington-based think tank Center for Security and International Studies (CSIS) and moderated by Bonnie Glaser, director of its China Power Project.
“Both of them have pleaded guilty to public order … and they continue to make political speeches, after they pleaded guilty, before and even after they were remanded they still spoke to the media about ‘Hong Kong people add oil, don’t give up,’ and that sort of thing,” she added, saying it was evidence that freedoms guaranteed by the city’s Basic Law remain intact.
Ip said it may take “two to three years” before the Hong Kong court renders final decisions on Wong and Chow because of the appeal process.
“That’s why our government said recently – in fact, the secretary for security John Lee said recently, when people asked him, ‘Are you going to reactivate Article 23 and introduce local legislation to fill the other loopholes?” Ip said, referring to the part of the Basic Law that requires Hong Kong to enact national security legislation on its own.
An attempt to do so in 2003 saw the bill shelved after an estimated half a million people took to the streets to oppose it.
Lee “said that we have to wait and see how the new national security law operates before we know whether there are other loose ends to tie up”, Ip added. “So the answer is, I don‘t know, these are early days.”
Ip also asserted that Hong Kong’s courts remain independent from political interference and characterised the city’s “one country, two systems” framework after the imposition of the national security law as “a challenging enterprise” and “a work in progress”.
Critics have said that the law – which gives authorities sweeping powers to target acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – could fundamentally reshape the international financial hub, though the central and local governments have repeatedly pledged that the law would target only a minority of people.
“One country, two systems is not easy … and what we see happening is a coming together of the two systems,” Ip said.
“Although freedom has been restricted in some areas, and this is happening around the world, whenever you have terrorism threats or separatism threats, you have to introduce new legislation to restrict freedom, somewhat, but [to a degree that is] permissible” under the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Ip’s position was in line with that of Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, who said last week that anti-China activism will no longer be allowed among legislators and officials by law, as a key step to ensuring the patriotism that must underpin the city’s political system.
“People who love the country and Hong Kong will govern Hong Kong, and people who are anti-China and cause trouble in Hong Kong are out,” Zhang told the Basic Law 30th Anniversary Legal Summit. “This is a political rule under ‘one country, two systems’, and has become a legal requirement now.”
Russel rejected Ip’s contention that Wong’s and Chow’s continued ability to address the public proves that freedoms guaranteed by the Basic Law remain intact.
“What that means is that the crackdown is not yet complete,” he said.
“The national security law supersedes Hong Kong’s courts. It’s exempt from judicial review. It creates an office with unchecked authority. And it‘s introduced mainland secret police, it’s taken a page out of the East German Stasi handbook by soliciting informers and encouraging anonymous accusations.”
The new multi-platform tip line referenced by Russel received more than 10,000 messages in its first week in existence. The hotline allows the public to send information, photos, and audio and video clips to a designated email address. They can also send messages via SMS or WeChat, though officers do not pick up incoming calls.
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