Wang Guangya says no rush on Article 23 law
Chloe Lai in Macau and Gary Cheung
Beijing's head of Hong Kong affairs said yesterday a national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law should only be introduced when the city had reached a consensus on the issue.
It is the first time such a high-ranking official has stated publicly that the central government is in no rush for the law to be enacted.
Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, made the remarks as he visited an outdoor market in Macau on the fourth day of a high-profile tour of Hong Kong and Macau.
When asked about Article 23, Wang said: 'Hong Kong should introduce a national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law. It will be introduced when everyone reaches a consensus.'
He said he would leave it up to the next administration to decide whether it wants to take up this duty.
Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan said Wang's remarks indicated Beijing did not see an urgent need for Hong Kong to enact the legislation, and that the absence of such a law so far did not constitute a breach of the Basic Law.
'I believe Wang's message is that enacting the national security law is not an urgent task for the next special administrative region government,' Ho said.
Political commentator Ching Cheong said: 'Wang's remarks amount to a slap in the face for some Hong Kong people who have called for early enactment of the national security legislation in an attempt to win the central government's blessing for their political ambition.'
Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai, a member of the National People's Congress Standing Committee who is tipped as a dark horse to run for the chief executive post, last month described the thorny issue of Article 23 as an 'unavoidable challenge' for the next government.
Senior mainland officials briefly toyed with reintroducing the national security bill after the government's success in passing the political reform package in the legislature last year, according to a central government-affiliated researcher who has been canvassing political sentiment in Hong Kong.
Public anger over Article 23 reached a climax in 2003, when half a million Hongkongers took to the streets to protest against the law, eventually leading to the replacement of then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa.
Meanwhile, following his debut visit to a wet market in Hong Kong, Wang visited several street markets in Macau yesterday, as well as a public housing estate construction site and three community centres.
Wang began his visit on Tuesday evening by visiting three major casinos, including having dinner at the MGM Grand.
He spent about five minutes in the lobby and ballroom of the Grand Lisboa after dinner and then took a tour of the hotel and leisure facilities at the newly opened Galaxy resort complex. But he did not visit any of the casinos' gaming sections.
Asked whether he would visit casinos, he said: 'I don't know how to gamble, nor do I have money. Macau needs to develop the convention and tourism industry. Casinos are a major characteristic of Macau. The development in Macau should be all round.' Wang will leave Macau today.