The Hong Kong government will not have the political energy to legislate the controversial national security law in the next few years despite renewed calls from Beijing, according to two pro-establishment heavyweights.
Beijing loyalists Lau Siu-kai and Tam Yiu-chung voiced their thoughts on Sunday after Wang Zhenmin, former legal chief of the central government’s liaison office in Hong Kong, said the city must not delay the legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law.
“I think the central government doesn’t really believe the Hong Kong government under the leadership of Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor will be able to finish the legislation of Article 23 in two or three years,” Lau, vice-chairman of semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, told the Post.
“The legislation may not necessarily be the Hong Kong government’s highest priority because of the Legislative Council election next year. The push for legislation is likely to give an edge to the pan-democrats in the election.”
On Saturday, Wang, director of Tsinghua University’s Centre for Hong Kong and Macau Research and a central government adviser, told a seminar in Beijing it was now essential for the city to put the legislation on the agenda.
Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, states the city must enact national security laws to prohibit treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the central government.
The government was forced to shelve the bill in 2003 after half a million people took to the streets.
Lau agreed with the urgency and necessity for the bill.
“But it’s not something you can get done in one or two years even if you rush,” he said.
He believed Beijing never relied on the Hong Kong government solely to protect national security, always having two strings to its bow.
He said the central government was already taking action at diplomatic and legal levels to safeguard national security. That included Beijing’s recent sanctions against US-based NGOs for “supporting violence in the city” and its criticism of a local court ruling that found an anti-mask law and the use of emergency laws unconstitutional, Lau said.
Beijing would have other means – such as applying national laws in Hong Kong or interpreting the Basic Law – if the situation got worse, he said.
“But the Hong Kong government can make full use of its current legal system,” Lau said, citing the Crimes, Public Order, Societies, Official Secrets and Emergency Regulations ordinances as having relevance to ensure national security.
Tam, Hong Kong’s sole delegate to the country’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, also said it was very difficult to get the legislation passed after the social unrest that had rocked the city for more than six months.
“Article 23 has already been stigmatised,” he said. “But from the central government’s point of view, it’s necessary to keep reminding the Hong Kong authorities that this must be done.”
Macau saw no large-scale protests when it enacted its national security law in 2009.