The government has no plans to follow Macau's move to enact the national security law required under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the secretary for security has said.
Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong said yesterday that both Hong Kong and Macau had a constitutional responsibility to enact Article 23, which requires the two cities to pass legislation to protect national security.
'However, the Hong Kong government's priorities are the economy and people's livelihood,' he told the Legislative Council's security panel discussing the chief executive's policy address.
'The government does not have a plan at the moment to follow Macau in legislation on Article 23.'
A mainland legal expert said Hong Kong should have enacted a national security law a long time ago, adding that the city's failure to do so 11 years after the handover was 'inglorious'.
'It's normal for the Macau government to launch the legislative work to enact a national security law,' the expert said. 'Hongkongers should not be reluctant to discharge their constitutional duty while they are eager to enjoy the rights enshrined in the Basic Law.'
However, the expert said it was up to Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to decide whether to complete the national security legislation before his term expired in 2012.
It is understood Beijing believes that the enactment of national security laws in Hong Kong and Macau should be handled separately, though Macau's enactment could serve as a reference for Hong Kong.
The legal expert said the Basic Law would not be fully implemented in Hong Kong if legislation to enact Article 23 was not passed.
'It would not be in line with the spirit of the rule of law if Hongkongers only fight for rights such as the introduction of universal suffrage while refusing to discharge their duties under the Basic Law, such as enactment of a national security law.'
The Macau government will release a detailed paper today and begin a consultation period of four to six weeks, newspapers reported.
The journal Va Kio quoted an unnamed official as saying violations of the planned national security law could carry a maximum penalty of 25 to 30 years in jail.
Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah will meet community leaders and senior politicians this week to discuss the plan.
Macau is expected to table its bill to the Legislative Assembly by the end of the year, newspapers reported. Mr Ho said in his policy address last year that his government planned to complete the legislation by next year.
Under the mini-constitutions of Hong Kong and Macau, both must legislate against treason and subversion, though no specific timetable has been given.
The national security bill in Hong Kong was shelved by former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa shortly after a 500,000-strong protest march in July 2003.
After the government withdrew the bill, the Security Bureau formed a working group to review the legislative efforts for the law.
'Continuing to work on the implementation of Article 23 of the Basic Law' was listed in the 2004 and the 2005 policy agenda of the Hong Kong government.
A Hong Kong government source said the city would come under pressure after Macau pressed ahead with enactment.