A headline in Mingpao last Sunday read: “The national security law proposed for Hong Kong is tougher than that in Macao.” Macao had enacted a local national security law under Article 23 of its Basic Law back in 2009. The extent of Beijing’s involvement under the proposed national security law for Hong Kong is much greater than that in Macao. In particular, Beijing does not appoint a national security adviser for Macao; nor does Macao have any national security organization directly appointed by Beijing.
As was pointed out by Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, this is because Beijing is far less worried about Macao than about Hong Kong. Macao has done a lot to reassure Beijing that it can be trusted, and that includes setting up the Committee for the Protection of National Security in 2018, and the more recent Cyber Security Law.
Some commentators also pointed out that the proposed law is much tougher than the original bill that failed to pass in 2003. I recall that Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, the then-secretary for security, had complained that most of those who opposed the law did not even take a look at the bill. People just opposed any legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law regardless of the contents. This is why 17 years have lapsed, and no chief executive has been able to present it to legislators.
I am most disappointed by the turn of events. I was, in particular, most disappointed by the rejection of the political reform package presented by the SAR government in 2014. I would say that any fair-minded commentator would agree that it was quite good. Those who opposed it of course had their reasons. They said that it did not allow “civil nomination” and that it did not allow nomination by political parties. But they forget that nomination by a nominating committee is a requirement explicitly spelled out in the Basic Law. The Basic Law became effective on July 1, 1997.
Under freedom of speech, as is protected by the Basic Law, people can of course make their demands known by legal means, including peaceful demonstration, writing newspaper articles, and speaking out in community forums. But some people wanted to force the issue. The “Occupy Central” movement openly defied Hong Kong law, and caused tremendous inconvenience and hardship to many fellow citizens
Those who press for civil nomination or any other nomination method that bypasses the Nominating Committee defy the terms specified in the Basic Law. Challenging what is already in the Basic Law is testing the bottom line of Beijing.
Under freedom of speech, as is protected by the Basic Law, people can of course make their demands known by legal means, including peaceful demonstration, writing newspaper articles, and speaking out in community forums. But some people wanted to force the issue. The “Occupy Central” movement openly defied Hong Kong law, and caused tremendous inconvenience and hardship to many fellow citizens. The occupiers thought of their rights but ignored the rights of fellow citizens. They said that they defied the law to pursue a just cause. But not everybody agreed. Do they have a monopoly over the definition of justice?
Then there was this massive protests and violence following the attempt of the SAR government to amend the extradition law, which currently precludes the Chinese mainland from having criminals who committed a crime on the mainland and hiding in Hong Kong to be extradited to the mainland to face trial. The SAR government may not have handled it very well, and some breakdown in communication apparently had occurred. But what would justify the violence?
There were cases of defilement of the national flag, booing when the national anthem was sung, arson, hurling of bricks, petrol bombs, TATP, attempts to seek secession from China, and even visits to the United States seeking sanctions on Hong Kong.
When the bottom line is breached multiple times, what would you expect? If the proposed national security law is tougher than what was in the bill in 2003, and if it is tougher than what is now the national security law in Macao, isn’t the reason very clear: By breaching the bottom line, people were actually “asking for a tougher law”.
Of course, there were reasons cited for all those breaches. I do not blame everyone who protested in the 2003 rally against Article 23 legislation; nor do I blame everyone who protested following the attempt by the SAR government to amend the extradition law. Some people have a deep distrust of Beijing, and that cannot be ignored or dismissed. It is exactly because I realize that some people’s worries are real that I recommended introducing a jury system and asking for a two-thirds majority before someone was to be extradited. The SAR government did not listen to my suggestion, and I still think this was most unfortunate.
Since some people actually do have fears, when they protest out of their fears, taking part in lawful rallies will not constitute an offense. Those who claim we are seeing the end of free speech in Hong Kong are simply alarmist. Beijing has assured us that ordinary people in Hong Kong should have no fear that they will be charged under the proposed national security law.
Only those who willfully create social disorder, who endanger China’s territorial integrity, who try to subvert the political system on the mainland, or collude with foreign or external forces and engage in terrorist activities, will need to worry.
The author is a senior research fellow at Pan Sutong Shanghai-Hong Kong Economic Policy Research Institute, Lingnan University.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
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