Beijing is not insisting Carrie Lam pass a national security law right now, senior adviser claims
But central government does want new Hong Kong leader to be sincere about safeguarding China’s sovereignty and build her authority with policy wins
Beijing is not insisting that Hong Kong’s new leader secure passage of a national security law in the next few years, but she must demonstrate she is willing and sincere about safeguarding China’s sovereignty, a senior adviser to the central government said on Friday.
Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association on Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank, said Beijing would prefer that Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor strengthen the authority of her administration over the next few years with policy achievements and ideally amid a moderate political atmosphere in the city.
Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the city must pass national security legislation. But an effort to push through a bill in 2003 prompted half a million people to take to the streets in opposition, and the bill was shelved.
At the new administration’s inauguration last Saturday, President Xi Jinping said any attempt to endanger China’s sovereignty or challenge the central government’s power would cross a “red line”. Xi added that while Hong Kong needed to “improve its systems to uphold national sovereignty”, it must also focus energy on development.
This week, Lam reiterated Hong Kong had a constitutional responsibility to enact a national security law, but made clear it would only happen when conditions were conducive.
On a Commercial Radio programme on Friday, Lau was asked if he believed Beijing wanted Lam to get Article 23 legislation passed within her five-year term.
“That would be ideal, but I don’t think the central government wants her to do it in the next one or two years because she needs to strengthen her base and rebuild the government’s authority,” the senior adviser said.
“She should at least demonstrate that she is still willing and sincere about defending national security.”
Lam revealed on Thursday that a more detailed proposal to establish a joint immigration facility for the cross-border, high-speed rail link to Guangzhou would be announced soon so that the city could discuss it over the summer.
Critics have argued that allowing mainland immigration officers to operate in Hong Kong would contravene the Basic Law, which states that national or mainland laws shall not be applied in the city.
Lau believed the checkpoint would not trigger a political crisis or serious social divisions, describing Hongkongers as “pragmatic” and “rational” and likely to recognise the proposal’s merits.
On Wednesday, Lam said in remarks at the Legislative Council that she had told her ministers they must lobby lawmakers and not leave the job to anyone else. Her response came when asked to comment on accusations that officials from Beijing’s liaison office had been involved in lobbying efforts during the administration of her predecessor, Leung Chun-ying.
Lau said he understood the office’s involvement because the administration sometimes put itself in a bind when it did not want to make concessions to lawmakers – even those in the pro-establishment camp – while ensuring their support.
“Lam’s administration might not need to rely on the liaison office if it is prepared to make policy concessions,” he added. “But in handling policies involving huge vested interests, is the government’s political energy large enough to overcome the hurdles? We’ll have to wait and see.”