It is Hong Kong’s responsibility to safeguard national security, two mainland Chinese officials in the city have said as they hit out at local activists for “colluding with external forces” and challenging China’s sovereignty.
The remarks from the central government’s liaison office director Wang Zhimin and Yang Yirui, deputy commissioner of Beijing’s foreign ministry office in Hong Kong, came at a high-powered symposium on Sunday.
Their words were regarded by pro-Beijing politicians as a call for the city’s government to enact the controversial national security legislation before its current term ends in 2022. The pair’s comments were also seen as a veiled attack on embattled academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting, who was strongly criticised for his independence remarks in a seminar in Taiwan last month.
At the same event, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu were non-committal over any timetable for the legislation.
Lam said she hoped that the symposium could be an opportunity for authorities to “launch promotional and educational activities relating to national security”.
“We hope that Hong Kong people’s [low] awareness of national security issues can be strengthened,” she said.
The symposium, organised by the Hong Kong Policy Research Institute think tank, was attended by about 200 people, including Hong Kong’s former leader Tung Chee-hwa, and more than 10 local top officials.
The event was described as the first of its kind in Hong Kong, since China passed a national security law in 2015 and declared April 15 National Security Education Day. The mainland law does not apply in Hong Kong.
Wang said safeguarding national security meant defending Hong Kong’s fundamental well-being, Beijing’s “one country, two systems” governing principle for the city, and President Xi Jinping’s goal to achieve a “rejuvenation of the Chinese nation”.
On Xi’s goal, Wang warned that problems could emerge in Hong Kong.
“Hong Kong is the only place in the world without a national security legislation – it’s a major weakness in the nation’s overall security, and it has a direct impact on residents,” he said.
Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, Hong Kong must enact its own national security legislation to prohibit treason and subversion. But the government’s last attempt was shelved in 2003 after half a million residents took to the streets to oppose it, citing worries over civil liberties.
Wang said without a national security law, “Hong Kong independence radicals have been challenging national sovereignty and security in recent years”.
“The fallacy of Hong Kong independence is not only being spread in society, but has entered campuses to intoxicate the next generation,” he added.
“They didn’t only do it in Hong Kong, but ran to Taiwan and abroad to collude with anti-China forces.”
Without giving names, Wang accused pro-independence activists of “engaging in activities that sought to separate the motherland and subvert the national regime”.
“These acts seriously challenged our bottom lines, and went far beyond the boundaries of so-called academic and expressive freedoms,” he said.
Yang, meanwhile, accused “a small minority of individuals who have been treating external forces as their masters”.
“They attacked the nation’s socialist system and posed a serious threat to the city’s prosperity and stability, as well as national security … Hong Kong absolutely cannot become a free port for external forces to do whatever they want,” Yang warned.
Speaking separately, Tai said the mainland officials were making use of his independence remarks to force the government to enact the Article 23 legislation.
No need to link Benny Tai’s independence comments to launch of national security laws, Hong Kong No 2 official says
On the sidelines of the symposium, National People’s Congress deputy Brave Chan Yung said the Beijing officials’ remarks showed that the Hong Kong government must enact the legislation by 2022.
Former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, a key organiser of the symposium, said he would be “surprised” if the government did not do anything within the current administration’s term.
However, pro-establishment legislator Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said she believed Lam would enact the legislation at an appropriate time, and that she would respect the chief executive’s decision.
“I don’t think [the officials’] speeches would exert huge pressure on the government,” Lee said.
Civic Party chairman Alan Leong Kah-kit, who strongly opposed the move to enact the legislation in 2003, also warned that reviving the controversial bill would cause an even bigger opposition in Hong Kong.