A pro-Beijing party in Hong Kong is set to withdraw a legislative motion calling for controversial national security laws amid concerns it would be used to justify American sanctions on the city over mainland “encroachment” of freedoms.
Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan, under pressure from the business sector, announced on Monday that he would request to change his motion topic in the Legislative Council to one on the ongoing US-China trade war, and, if this was rejected, would fully withdraw his bid.
Last week the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, which advises the United States Congress, released a report warning of Beijing’s “encroachment” on the city’s rule of law and freedom of expression.
It recommended reviewing the arrangement to treat Hong Kong and mainland China as separate customs areas in the export of technology with civilian and military applications.
Calling the report misleading, Chung said he did not want his motion, originally set for a debate and a vote next month, to fan the flames sparked by US congressmen intent on creating trouble for Hong Kong or China.
“I don’t want to add fuel to the fire and give ammunition or any excuses for the US to play on the issue ... There are risks that I can’t take,” Chung said.
I don’t want to add fuel to the fire and give ammunition or any excuses for the US to play on the issue ... There are risks that I can’t take
Felix Chung, lawmaker
“Some newly elected congressmen might be unfamiliar with Hong Kong’s situation too,” he added, referring to the recent US midterm elections.
Since taking office in July last year, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has faced increasing pressure from Beijing to enact national security legislation – especially amid calls by separatists for the city to break away from mainland China.
Given the pro-Beijing camp’s majority in Legco, Chung’s motion was likely to be passed. While the government is not obliged to act on any motion initiated by a lawmaker, once passed, it would add pressure on the administration to pursue the issue.
Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, Hong Kong is obliged to enact its own law to prohibit acts of “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” against the central government. Previous attempts to advance the legislation in 2003 resulted in half a million people taking to the streets, forcing authorities to shelve the bill.
However, Beijing has signalled its impatience in recent years.
The US report noted recent developments in the city, such as the unprecedented ban on the separatist Hong Kong National Party, and it raised concerns this “may lead to the passage of national security legislation that would allow the government to further silence pro-democracy organisations and supporters”.
It recommended that US lawmakers press authorities to assess the country’s policy of exporting sensitive technology, “as it relates to the US treatment of Hong Kong and China as separate customs areas”.
Chung said: “Many friends from the business sector were very worried over the weekend. It will be a real game over for Hong Kong if the US imposes sanctions on the city.”
He added that such a move would be tantamount to destroying the city’s strengths as an international trading hub under Beijing’s “one country, two systems” governing principle, which grants Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.
The pro-establishment lawmaker explained that he had wanted to table the motion calling for national security legislation soon after his re-election two years ago, and was finally allocated a debate time slot on December 5.
But he added that it was not the right time to push ahead with calls amid the US-China trade war.
Additional reporting by Tony Cheung
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