Hong Kong’s leader on Tuesday said the city was still not ready for national security legislation, even though Beijing officials have recently been ramping up reminders that laws against offences such as treason and sedition are overdue to tackle independence advocacy.
“It is our constitutional duty to enact the law … so we have to do it, with or without any pressure,” Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said, while denying that she was being pushed to act. “But we do not have a timetable for enacting the legislation yet … I stand by what I said in my policy address – yes, it is our duty to do this work, but the time is not yet right.”
Lam said her administration had been working hard to create “favourable conditions” to do so, speaking for the first time on the issue after attending a symposium on Sunday at which the director of the Beijing’s liaison office in the city, Wang Zhimin, hit out at local activists he said had challenged China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.
Wang’s words were widely interpreted as a call for Lam to enact the legislation before her current term ends in 2022.
Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the government must pass legislation against treason, secession, sedition or subversion. However, activists fear such a law would be used to curtail freedoms.
Asked to comment on media reports suggesting she would aim to pass the law next year, Lam said: “The reference to next year is total speculation … I do not have the full [information] yet on whether [the right environment] will emerge next year.”
The last attempt to implement the legislation was shelved in 2003 after half a million residents took to the streets to oppose it, citing fears over losing civil liberties.
Lam said her administration needed “to create the conditions conducive to enacting Article 23 … otherwise it will simply be abortive and [our efforts] futile, wasting a lot of time and resources”.
A peaceful and rational atmosphere in society, as well as confidence in the central and local governments, were needed to create “favourable” conditions for handling such controversial issues, especially those involving the city’s relations with Beijing, she said.
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“I have been working very hard every day to create these conditions,” Lam said.
Basic Law expert Qiao Xiaoyang, who recently retired as chairman of the Law Committee in China’s national legislature, is due to address Hong Kong officials and senior civil servants at a seminar in the city on Friday. But Lam said the event had nothing to do with Article 23 legislation and would focus on constitutional affairs.