Published: 09:09, February 13, 2024 | Updated: 14:12, February 19, 2024
Multi-pronged approach needed to protect Article 23 legislation process
By Tony Kwok

An op-ed article on US foreign affairs, written by the head of the United States Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, says the CIA has more than doubled its budget for China in the past two years and is “stepping up efforts across the world to compete with China”. The focus is on intelligence collection and operations, and the agency is recruiting and training more Chinese speakers as agents. Similarly, the head of the British intelligence agency, MI6, Richard Moore, also acknowledged in his interview with Politico they’ve devoted more resources to China than any other mission.The critical questions are: How much resources have the CIA and MI6, respectively, dedicated to their Hong Kong operations; how many Chinese-speaking agents have they recruited in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and who are they?


During the British colonial era, Hong Kong gained a reputation as a spy capital. Alarmingly, once China resumed the exercise of sovereignty over the city, it became an “unguarded city” as no national security laws were in place to protect it against foreign interference. As a result, the SAR experienced the painful effects of a “color revolution” during the insurrection violence of 2019, which severely disrupted its economic activities and the livelihoods of its people for nearly a year.

Local legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law, which affords comprehensive legal protection against local and foreign-instigated hostile actions, is, thus, long overdue. It has been delayed for 27 years by misguided and malicious local political opposition.

Given the open threats from the CIA and MI6, it’s now the HKSAR government’s legislative priority in 2024. Hong Kong has seen how hostile foreign forces and radical local political activists were able to exploit this vulnerability by causing havoc and destruction to advance their political agenda. 

Considering the bitter lessons learned without its legislative protective umbrella, the timing for its introduction is far more favorable now than in its failed attempt in 2003, as Hong Kong people have become more level-headed and less easily influenced by negative media. We can now better appreciate the necessity and importance of Article 23 in ensuring the long-term stability and prosperity of Hong Kong and the protection of the foundation of our “one country, two systems”, enabling it to continue beyond the 50-year guarantee expiring in 2047 for the sake of our future generations.

The obstacles must be identified to ensure the smooth passage of the law. The anti-China and destabilizing forces are lurking in Hong Kong and overseas, waiting for their chance to pounce on us. They would, undoubtedly, in collusion with foreign forces, demonize the Article 23 legislation and provoke fear among Hong Kong citizens about how it would threaten their human rights and freedom, as they had done before. We’ve witnessed the social disruptions they caused during the earlier abortive attempt at legislating Article 23 in 2003, the Occupy Central movement in 2014, and the 2019 anti-extradition bill violent protests, which still haunt many Hong Kong citizens. We should learn from our past mistakes and be well prepared with countermeasures against their trouble-making, demonizing the government, and denouncing all pro-government public figures, particularly on social media.

The opposition seemed to have access to unlimited resources, allowing them to produce “Oscar award-standard” video clips featuring fake or misleading stories with attractive slogans to fuel anti-China sentiments among Hong Kong residents and incite mass hysteria. 

The HKSAR government must use every available means of publicity, including TV advertisements, to vehemently refute any false and misleading personal remarks and public statements, as well as scaremongering tactics on social media, and trace their origin and funding sources to hold them accountable under the law.

Rumors are circulating, claiming that people who violate the proposed new legislation would be extradited to the Chinese mainland, despite it being clearly stated in the consultation document that all criminal proceedings related to Article 23 would take place in Hong Kong courts.

Foreign opposition forces, in collusion with their controlled media, are employing scaremongering tactics, suggesting that Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center is finished with the introduction of Article 23. They even claimed this as the reason for the drop in the city’s stock market prices on Jan 30, following the SAR government’s launch of the public consultation process on Article 23.

An academic known for presenting cynical views during the Hong Kong insurrection has suddenly emerged from nowhere to suggest that local universities, in their joint research with overseas institutions, could easily fall into the legal trap of Article 23. This disregards the fact that the definition of foreign collusion only targets local political organizations with connections with foreign political forces, and poses a potential risk to national security. Universities and academic institutions are not considered political organizations.

It’s worth pointing out that the proposed new legislation consists primarily of existing statutory or common law offenses, such as treason and theft of State secrets, but refined to meet specific circumstances in present-day Hong Kong. It also covers new crimes, such as external interference, and anyone found to be collaborating with foreign forces to interfere in Hong Kong’s elections, legislative bodies, and government affairs would be dealt with according to the law. It’s essential to refer to similar national security laws in the United Kingdom and the US, which are considered more draconian.

It must be stressed that no innocent Hong Kong citizen needs to fear the new legislation. Like all criminal offenses in the SAR, all national security offenses have to prove the element of mens rea – the intention to commit an illegal act. No citizen can be inadvertently convicted unless the prosecution can prove beyond all reasonable doubt that the accused evidentially intends to harm national security.

During the current consultation and legislative process, the government should be most vigilant in monitoring certain media and social media platforms serving as base for the opposition force, as well as certain political commentators. Some are regarded as “Apple Daily 2.0”, and are always eager to seize opportunities to badmouth the government.

From the experience of the “color revolution” in 2019, we all know that many Western-backed civil societies were the driving forces behind it. Apart from the media, they included teachers’ unions, university student unions, academics, human rights groups, trade unions, and religious and other grassroots organizations. Law enforcement vigilance should be maintained over them in the next few months.

During the legal process, these organizations would look for every possible opportunity to spread false information and slander the central government and the HKSAR government, instigate hatred, division, and opposition in society and, hopefully, instigate unrest. Hence, all policy bureaus and government departments should be on full alert to detect any such moves in their early stages.

Extreme caution should be taken in introducing new legislation prohibiting non-recyclable plastic in April and paid refuse collection bags in August.

The US and its allies will not hesitate to undermine the legal process during the coming months. They might “weaponize” the US dollar to weaken Hong Kong’s status as an international financial center, cause a slump in the Hong Kong stock market, and impose sanctions on individuals and entities in the SAR. US and Western media, politicians and NGOs are very likely to continue spreading rumors against Hong Kong, smearing and attacking the city. Accordingly, the HKSAR government, the Hong Kong Monetary Authority, and other monitoring bodies should be fully alert and prepare contingency plans to tackle all eventualities.

In the coming months, intensive publicity is required to encourage the public to report national security offenses, especially any attempt to destabilize the Article 23 legal process. If this results in successful arrests and prosecutions, it would assist in deterring the opposition force and convincing the public of the need for legislation.

At the same time, the government should listen closely to any constructive proposals during the consultation period. One problematic area is whether public interest can be relied on as defense in the unauthorized disclosure of State secrets. In this regard, the Independent Commission Against Corruption experience might provide helpful guidance. Under Section 30 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, the media can divulge ICAC secrets if it involves “any unlawful activity, abuse of power, serious neglect of duty, or other serious misconduct of any ICAC officer, or if it involves a serious threat to public order or the health and safety of the public”. 

The HKSAR government needs a multi-pronged approach, in partnership with every citizen and organization, to ensure the successful passing of the Article 23 legislation, plug all loopholes in national security once and for all, and provide a safe and stable environment for our continued economic, social and political development.  

The author is an Honorary Fellow of HKU Space and Hong Kong Metropolitan University and Council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macau Studies.