Chinese President Xi Jinping has set protecting national security as a top priority for Hong Kong, urging the city to focus next on its legal and enforcement aspects under Beijing’s comprehensive jurisdiction.
At a ceremony to mark the Communist Party’s centenary in Beijing on Thursday, Xi made clear that protecting national sovereignty, security and development were vital tasks, along with ensuring social stability.
After a day of relative calm in Hong Kong, a police officer was stabbed in the back at around 10pm not far from Causeway Bay’s Victoria Park, which had been locked down earlier in the day to prevent any possible protests on the 24th anniversary of the city’s return to Chinese sovereignty.
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The lone assailant then used the weapon on himself. The officer was in a serious condition in hospital, while the attacker’s condition was not immediately known.
In his speech, Xi referred to both Hong Kong and Macau, saying: “We must implement the legal systems and enforcement mechanisms to safeguard national security in the special administrative regions, and to protect national sovereignty, security and development interests.”
“We must also ensure the social stability of the special administrative regions, as well as the long-term prosperity of Hong Kong and Macau,” he added during a wide-ranging speech at Tiananmen Square that lasted more than an hour.
Xi also emphasised that while Beijing would respect Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status, the central government enjoyed full authority over its affairs, including but not restricted to defence and diplomacy.
“We must comprehensively and accurately implement the principles of ‘one country, two systems’ – ‘Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong … with a high degree of autonomy’ – and exercise the central government’s comprehensive jurisdiction over Hong Kong,” he said.
Xi referred specifically to Hong Kong residents as he thanked people from all walks of life for contributing to the nation’s success.
“The people are the creators of history and the real heroes. I, on behalf of the party’s central leadership … express our wholehearted greetings to compatriots in Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan,” he said.
The term “comprehensive jurisdiction” was first introduced in a State Council white paper issued in June 2014 and explains Beijing’s absolute power to oversee different areas of Hong Kong’s governance.
Xi’s comments also build upon an idea put forward at the end of the party’s annual meeting in 2019. A communique issued on October 31 vowed to “establish and improve” the legal system and “enforcement mechanism for Hong Kong to safeguard national security”.
In a draft of the party’s five-year plan released in November last year, several months after the imposition of a national security law on the city, the key priority for Hong Kong was changed from “establish and improve” to “implementing” the legislation.
The president’s message for Hong Kong was widely seen as a reminder to the city’s leadership that the task of restoring order to prevent a recurrence of the 2019 anti-government protests was far from over.
Observers said the local government must ensure that three key coming elections were held without incident and help businesses in rebooting an economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic.
Xi’s speech before an audience of 70,000 people coincided with the 24th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover from British to Chinese rule. The occasion was marked with a flag-raising ceremony and reception in Wan Chai while police maintained a heavy presence in bustling parts of the city to thwart any possible protests.
Acting chief executive John Lee Ka-chiu put national security at the centre of his speech to assembled dignitaries and labelled the social unrest two years ago as “black violence”, a term favoured by the pro-Beijing camp but used less frequently by government officials.
“Although the acts of ‘black violence’ since the latter half of 2019, and the attempts of anti-China disruptors to take advantage of the loopholes in the [city’s] electoral system, to paralyse the government and even seize power have brought unprecedented challenges to Hong Kong, the central government has stayed true to its original aspiration in implementing one country, two systems,” he said.
The new No 2 official, acting as leader as Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was in Beijing for the centenary celebrations, called for a deeper understanding of the one country, two systems as a principle implemented under the party’s leadership.
“The smooth return of Hong Kong to the motherland is an integral part of the party’s century-old cause,” he said. “Throughout the process, the party demonstrated its clear determination to fulfil the historical mission of erasing the century-long national humiliation and reunifying the nation, while taking care of the vital interests of Hong Kong people.”
Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the semi-official Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Xi’s remarks showed that local authorities needed to remain highly vigilant against any threat to public order and national security.
“Ensuring national security is a long-term project in Hong Kong,” he said. “The national security law has only dealt with several kinds of security threats that emerged in recent years … but Hong Kong is an open society and an international financial centre. There could be threats when foreign countries attack our financial system, and when many residents continue to be anti-Communist and pro-West.”
Lam said last month the government would strive to prepare for a revival of the Article 23 national security legislation, which was shelved after an estimated half a million people took to the streets in protest in 2003.
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Lau said Xi’s remarks indicated that the legislation was a necessary step under Beijing’s plan to ensure the long-term security of the country and Hong Kong.
“Xi also highlighted social stability, which means Hong Kong must be governed effectively, and have no repeat of the riots.”
Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, requires Hong Kong enact laws “on its own” to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion or theft of state secrets. It also requires banning foreign political organisations from carrying out political activities in the city and local political organisations or bodies from establishing ties with overseas political bodies.
The Beijing-imposed national security law outlaws acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, without covering all seven offences spelled out in Article 23.
Lau said while Lam, Lee and other senior officials had used the phrase “black violence” on previous occasions, it was significant the acting leader used it.
“Some officials were afraid of offending people and just used vague terms such as ‘social incident’ to refer to the 2019 riots, understating the seriousness of what happened,” he said. “Now the government is hinting that it will just tell the truth … It will be progressive and courageous in seriously tackling threats to national security.”
Opposition activist Lo Kin-hei, chairman of the Democratic Party, would only say that Xi’s speech was consistent with Beijing’s hardline approach towards Hong Kong.
“It was expected. From the recent appointments of senior officials to key ministerial posts, to the president’s speech on Thursday, we do not see any sign of a new direction from Beijing,” he said. “The central government was just maintaining its tough policies on the city.”
Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said Xi’s remarks showed the president was concerned about deviations as Hong Kong implemented the one country, two systems principle.
Tam also said Xi expected local authorities to roll out initiatives to ensure social stability and strengthen the city’s protection of national security, noting the president had called for further efforts, a year into the law’s enactment in Hong Kong.
Pro-establishment legislator Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said Xi’s speech showed that national security and social stability were the two key elements of Hong Kong’s long-term prosperity.
“The central government enacted the national security law in Hong Kong to ensure the city’s stability … but Article 23 remains our constitutional responsibility,” she said.
She added that she hoped the government could continue to prepare the Article 23 legislation, noting Chief Secretary John Lee and security minister Chris Tang Ping-keung had recently underlined its importance.
“Social stability is also crucial for Hong Kong residents to have a better life,” she said.
Additional reporting by Nadia Lam
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