National security and Hong Kong’s future
The National People’s Congress (NPC) being convened in Beijing will deliberate a bill reviewing a draft Decision on establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) to safeguard national security. The Decision targets on four kinds of acts, namely secession, subverting state power, and organising and carrying out terrorist activities, as well as activities interfering with the HKSAR's internal affairs by foreign or external forces. Subject to the passage of the bill by the NPC and the completion of the related legislation by the Standing Committee of the NPC, the law will be listed in the Annex III of the Basic Law and to be promulgated by the HKSAR Government.
While the society may need some time to understand and digest the bill, we should be familiar with the background of the exercise. Over the past one year, violent acts in Hong Kong have been escalating, from road blockage and vandalism at the beginning, to violent attacks targeting at people with different views and their stores. There are even cases involving possession of arms and making of explosives, which show signs of local terrorism. These acts have crossed the redline of expressing views in a peaceful and rational manner, and have been dragging Hong Kong into the turmoil of violence and hatred.
What’s even more worrying is that some of these acts are associated with claims and actions of separatism, such as storming the Central People’s Government (CPG)’s office in Hong Kong, defacing the national flag and emblem, and inviting foreign governments and organisations to interfere with the HKSAR's internal affairs and to impose sanction on Hong Kong. Some even outlined concrete steps for “burning together”, threatening to harm the interests of Hong Kong and China if their demands cannot be addressed. These acts overstepped the “one country” principle and posed a national security threat.
Freedom of speech and expression have all along been core values treasured by Hong Kong. Nonetheless, freedom is not absolute. National security is the fundamental prerequisite for the survival and development of any country. For most countries in the world, either developed or developing ones, have put in place national security law or other legislation to prevent and penalize actions endangering national sovereignty and security.
For Hong Kong, there are obvious inadequacies in our existing legal framework in safeguarding the national security. Although it is stipulated in Article 23 of the Basic Law that the HKSAR has the constitutional responsibility and legal obligation to enact laws to safeguard the national security, the related enactment work has been suspended for a long time given the tremendous difficulties being faced in the past 23 years since the handover. Against such background, the CPG now chooses to plug the loophole proactively so as to safeguard the national security, which in turn can also ensure the successful implementation of the “One country, two system” in Hong Kong in the long run.
Some people may concern about the possible impact on foreign investment confidence and Hong Kong’s position as an international financial centre. Any discussion on these issues should be put in the right context and take into account the macro environment and reality now facing Hong Kong. As the international environment getting complicated and Hong Kong’s unique position in the China-US conflicts, if Hong Kong becomes a loophole in the national security, how could we ensure that Hong Kong would not be used as a tool against China, or turned into a battlefield of some sort? With our local society already highly politicised, if foreign interests and powers are allowed to mingle in Hong Kong to hinder the development of China, the future of Hong Kong will only be even more difficult. With social unrest on the surface and other disturbing factors underneath, not only people’s livelihood and safety could be endangered, but the confidence of foreign investors will be shattered eventually. In fact, the outbreak of violent acts and social unrests since the legislative exercise of the Fugitive Offenders Bill of June last year, as well as the advocacy for “Hong Kong independence”, have already made local and foreign investors worried about the political and social risks of Hong Kong. It is now necessary and urgent for us to enact the national security law in order to plug the loophole of the national security.
The enactment of the national security law could, through the legal system, protect Hong Kong from various threats, prevent secession, subversion of state power and the organization and carrying out of terrorist activities, as well as activities interfering with the HKSAR's internal affairs by foreign or external forces. It could also prevent extremism and chaos in Hong Kong and retore social safety and stability, which would in turn help maintaining a favourable environment for business and investment.
In fact, what actually affects investor confidence is not the national security law itself, but the misunderstanding people may have about the legislation. The CPG has already made it clear that the law targets at the minority of people who are suspected of threatening national security. For the general public, their legitimate freedoms and rights will not be harmed, their daily lives will not be affected and the safety of their properties will continue to be properly protected.
Some foreign chambers of commerce have expressed their concerns about the legislation and pointed out the importance for Hong Kong to uphold its established advantages, including free flow of information, freedom of speech, and a Government of high transparency and integrity. In fact, HKSAR Government has been working hard to protect and strengthen these values. The CPG has also emphasised that it will continue to protect the legitimate interests of foreign countries and investors in accordance with the law, support the maintenance and development of relations between Hong Kong and other countries in areas like economic and trade, culture and tourism etc, and support Hong Kong’s external exchanges and cooperation. As normal investment, commercial and trade activities conducted by other countries in Hong Kong would not threaten the national security, such activities could be continued as usual.
We have all along emphasized that Hong Kong is the international financial centre of China and serves the role of connecting the Mainland and international markets. A safe society and political stability are prerequisites for an international financial centre. Enactment of the national security law could provide the necessary protection in these aspects and would not affect the normal flow of people, goods, information and capital. In fact, other international financial centres around the world are protected by their own national security law, and their development has not been affected by the law.
National security is the foundation on which Hong Kong’s role in connecting the Mainland and international markets and its position as an international financial centre are built. If Hong Kong becomes the loophole of the national security, the foundation will be damaged and Hong Kong will no longer be able to serve its function.
When considering the subject on national security, rather than focusing from Hong Kong’s local perspective, we should also take into account the national perspective, as well as the broader picture of international relations. Only by doing so, we could have a more comprehensive and in-depth understanding of Hong Kong’s situation and enable the continued successful implementation of the “One country, two system” in Hong Kong in the long run.
May 24, 2020