Hong Kong must not delay the introduction of a national security law, a central government adviser warned on Saturday, adding that it also needed to do a better job implementing its existing laws.
Wang Zhenmin, director of Tsinghua University’s Centre for Hong Kong and Macau Research, told a seminar in Beijing, that it was now an essential task for the city to put Article 23 legislation on the agenda.
The legal scholar was referring to a clause under the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, which stipulates that the city must enact its own national security law – a proposal that prompted mass protests in 2003.
Wang was speaking a day after President Xi Jinping praised Macau for making efforts to protect national security – remarks that were widely interpreted as an indirect but obvious “to-do” list for Hong Kong.
Macau saw no large-scale protests when it enacted its national security law in 2009, unlike in Hong Kong six years previously, when the government abandoned the plan after half a million people took to the streets.
Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, national security laws should prohibit seven types of activity: treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the central government, theft of state secrets, the hosting of political activities by foreign political organisations or bodies, and the establishment of ties between local and foreign political organisations.
Wang said five types of behaviour were already covered by existing Hong Kong law, but did not specify what these were.
He said that in these cases the “issue is about implementation”, but called on the Hong Kong government to take the lead in addressing the other two areas.
“There are calls that the central government should [step in and] legislate for the two remaining types of behaviour,” said Wang.
“But since it is stipulated in the Basic Law that the Special Administrative Region government has the power to legislate, our view is that the SAR government should do its best to complete the legislative work first.”
He continued: “The central government also has its responsibilities so [we need to] work together on this.”
Three years ago, Hong Kong’s former justice minister Elsie Leung Oi-sie argued that all seven activities could be covered by existing ordinances, which could be gradually amended to enact Article 23.
The seminar was organised by Global Times, a tabloid affiliated to the Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily.
Other speakers included Tam Yiu-chung, a pro-Beijing politician from Hong Kong, and Wei Jianguo, a former vice-minister of commerce.
The full-day seminar covered not only the past six months of social and political unrest in Hong Kong – triggered by a now withdrawn bill to allow the extradition of criminal suspects to the mainland – but also relations with the US, Taiwan and the rise of populism worldwide.
In his comments, Wang also blamed the Hong Kong government for failing to build up its authority since the 1997 handover.
“The [SAR] government is not as authoritative [as the colonial government] before the handover,” he said. “But this is not a constitutional problem. The Basic Law has inherited the fine traditions of the political system before the handover but the chief executives have made the SAR government weak.
“To build the SAR government’s authority, all [you need to do] is to strictly implement the law.”
Wang said the law gave the chief executive, the city’s top official, extensive powers, but many of these had not been “put to good use”.
Another speaker Jiang Shigong, a professor at Peking University, said that while Beijing had limited leeway in dealing with Hong Kong, it needed to adopt a more authoritative stance.
He said that because Article 23 covered national security, it was a matter that concerned the central government, but the legislation was the city government’s responsibility.
“Back in the colonial times, it was London that made the decisions,” Jiang said. “[After the handover], the SAR government took up the burden of making political decisions but it turned out that the civil servants had no idea how to make such decisions because they have been taking orders [for all these years].”
Jiang said the central government “can only give very general directions and point out [the current situation] is the result of some deep-rooted problems, but the Hong Kong government doesn’t even understand what those deep-rooted problems are”.
To improve governance he said Beijing had to “take up this responsibility in laying out very specific instructions” for the city’s government to follow.
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