Every sovereign state is endowed with the legitimate right to safeguard national security, and all countries have national security laws in place for that purpose. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region’s move to enact a local national security law, under the authorization of the central government of the sovereign State through Article 23 of the Basic Law, thus is seen as a matter of course by all countries except for the United States and a handful of its Western allies.
Being the world’s strongest power, the US is supposed to be least concerned about national security. But the reality is, it is one of the countries that have the most national security laws in place — at least 21, including the Espionage Act, the Alien Enemies Act, the National Security Act of 1947, the Central Intelligence Agency Act, the Protecting America from Spies Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the Economic Espionage Act and the Homeland Security Act.
The United Kingdom has just passed its National Security Act 2023, beefing up a dozen of its existing national security-related laws. Other members of their Five Eyes alliance also protect their own national security with several relevant laws: Canada at least nine laws, Australia at least four, and New Zealand at least two.
The US sentenced the ringleader of the 2021 Capitol Hill riot to more than 22 years in prison. A British court sentenced a young man who incited looting via social media and social networking service Facebook to four years in prison. Spain handed down heavy prison sentences of between nine and 13 years to nine leaders of Catalonia who had campaigned for a referendum on independence. These widely published convictions under those countries’ respective national security laws prove that respect for human rights and safeguarding national security can go hand in hand. Accusations hurled at the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL) and the Article 23 legislation thus are glaringly hypocritical and could only be driven by ideological bias.
In both unitary and federal countries, the power to legislate on issues relating to national security is vested in the national legislature. Nonetheless, under the special arrangement of “one country, two systems”, the central government has mandated, through Article 23 of the Basic Law, the HKSAR to enact a local version of national security legislation. Article 23 legislation thus is a constitutional responsibility of the HKSAR. Whether it is the promulgation of the NSL by the central authorities or the Article 23 legislation by the HKSAR, they are China’s internal affairs that brook no foreign interference.
For a long time, the existence of loopholes in Hong Kong’s national security protection system allowed political agitators to instigate waves of social unrest, plunging the city into chaos on several occasions. The Article 23 legislation, when completed, will complement the NSL in improving the national security system and enforcement mechanisms, as well as define “red lines” in clear terms. There will be no more ambiguity or loopholes left for people with ulterior motives to exploit. This will ensure Hong Kong’s stability and free the city from national security threats. The HKSAR government can focus on socioeconomic development and livelihood issues without distractions.
Contrary to those scaremongering narratives, the Article 23 legislation will not jeopardize Hong Kong’s international status for the following reasons:
First, Hong Kong’s advantage as a free port, which is the key to its prosperity, will remain unchanged. Hong Kong owes its prosperity to its highly liberal business environment, characterized by a free flow of information, people and capital, unrestricted currency exchange, zero tariffs, and simple and modest taxation for both enterprises and individuals. In no way will Hong Kong give up these assets, lest it should lose its appeal to investors. Neither the HKSAR government nor the central government will shoot themselves in the foot. Any “concerns” that Article 23 legislation will “tighten the grip on society”, leading to an “erosion” of Hong Kong’s freedoms and higher risks in doing business in the city are unwarranted. Hong Kong has been acclaimed as the freest, most open and fairest economy in the world. It is a signatory of more than 260 international agreements and a member of more than 30 intergovernmental organizations, a distinctive advantage that no other city possesses. Hong Kong’s advantages remain intact and robust three years into the implementation of the NSL. There is no reason to suggest that the HKSAR government will undermine the city’s advantages and international status with the Article 23 legislation.
Second, no individual or organization in Hong Kong will get into trouble as long as they abide by the law. Of the seven types of unlawful activities mentioned in Article 23 of the Basic Law, investors are particularly concerned about the provision that prohibits foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the HKSAR, as well as prohibits political organizations or bodies of the HKSAR from establishing ties with their foreign counterparts. These are concerns that this offense might not be able to be defined clearly enough and would thus erode investors’ confidence. However, why should a businessperson worry about the legality of his or her normal business activities?
Third, Hong Kong’s national security initiatives are on par with international practices. The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights stipulates that individual rights and freedoms are subject to restrictions for the protection of national security, public order and public health. For example, take Singapore, which is often compared with Hong Kong. Both its Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Act 2019 and Foreign Interference (Countermeasures) Act 2021 are remarkably stringent. In comparison, Hong Kong’s proposed Article 23 legislation is mild.
Addressing the opening ceremony of the National Security Education Day on April 15 last year, Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macao Work Office of the Communist Party of China Central Committee, noted that Hong Kong is an attractive place that generates opportunities and wealth, where investors from all over the world have created miracles, and that a prosperous and stable Hong Kong would be in the best interest of all.
It goes without saying that both Beijing and the HKSAR government have no reason or intention to undermine the city’s advantages and international status. Article 23 legislation is intended to fulfill the city’s constitutional responsibility and consolidate the foundation of its prosperity and stability. Optimizing the national security framework will enhance Hong Kong’s favorable investment environment and provide a better platform for investors from all over the world.
The author is vice-chairman of the Committee on Liaison with Hong Kong, Macao, Taiwan and Overseas Chinese of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference and chairman of the Hong Kong New Era Development Thinktank.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS