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Teresa Cheng

Hong Kong justice chief tight-lipped on whether she discussed Article 23 with Beijing officials

Teresa Cheng says three-day visit to capital centred on exchanges between legal sectors on both sides and opportunities for city

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 4:18pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 29 April, 2018, 10:15pm

Hong Kong’s justice minister did not reveal if she had discussed with state officials the enactment of a controversial national security law as she wrapped up her first duty visit to Beijing on Sunday.

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah said the “courtesy” call was mainly to strengthen exchange with legal practitioners across the border and push for Hong Kong to be an international arbitration centre.

She did not respond to reporters who asked whether she had discussed national security legislation in her meeting with Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

In recent years, Beijing has shown increasing impatience over Hong Kong’s lack of progress in implementing Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. Hong Kong is required to enact its own national security legislation to prohibit treason, secession, sedition and subversion.

Fear and loathing: which way forward for Article 23 national security law in face of stiff opposition in Hong Kong?

During her three-day visit, Cheng met Zhang and Shen Chunyao, chairman of the Basic Law Committee under the country’s top legislature, as well as officials from the Ministry of Justice and representatives from arbitration sectors on the mainland.

“This is a courtesy visit,” Cheng said. “I have met relevant ministries, commissions, arbitration industry representatives and some legal professionals.”

I have met relevant ministries, commissions, arbitration industry representatives and some legal professionals
Teresa Cheng, justice minister

“We mainly discussed how to strengthen cooperation and exchange between Hong Kong and the mainland legal community, and we are hoping that the Hong Kong legal sector can better seize opportunities ahead.”

Cheng was referring to opportunities from Beijing’s “Belt and Road Initiative” – a strategy to revive and develop trade routes between Asia and the rest of the world – and the “Greater Bay Area”, a scheme to link nine cities in Guangdong’s Pearl River Delta, including Hong Kong and Macau, to create an integrated economic and business hub.

As for the issue of national security legislation, the local government’s last attempt was shelved in 2003 after half a million residents took to the streets to oppose it, citing worries over civil liberties.

Scrutiny on the matter intensified recently when University of Hong Kong law academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting was strongly criticised for his independence remarks in a Taiwan seminar last month.

Two weeks ago, Beijing’s liaison office director Wang Zhimin said Hong Kong “was the only place in the world without national security legislation”.

Former Hong Kong director of public prosecutions Grenville Cross also weighed in on the debate during a radio interview on Saturday.

Pressure increases on Hong Kong leader to enact controversial national security law

He said there was an “urgent” need for the government to enact such legislation, warning that the chances of “one country, two systems” being in place after 2047 would be affected if there were further delays. Under the policy, Hong Kong is granted a high degree of autonomy by Beijing.

Cross said while current laws already covered treason, sedition and theft of state secrets, there were loopholes in regulating acts of subversion and secession.