Macau unveiled a draft security bill yesterday that appears softer than the Hong Kong version that spurred a massive protest in 2003.
Macau Chief Executive Edmund Ho Hau-wah said it was a 'sacred duty' to enact a national security law, given Article 23 of its Basic Law. Mr Ho also cited the city's reliance on the mainland for its well-being.
'The nation's safety, stability, prosperity and strength are of vital importance for Macau's stability and sustainable development. Defending national security is the sacred duty of the SAR government and Macau people,' Mr Ho said.
In a statement, the Hong Kong government said it would focus on economic issues and had no plan for security legislation 'at the present stage'.
'The most pressing commitments of the government are to tackle economic and people's livelihood issues,' the statement said.
The central government's liaison office in Hong Kong said it 'totally agreed' with the Hong Kong government's decision to keep economic issues on the front burner. A spokesman for the liaison office told Xinhua Macau's security legislation was an internal matter for the city.
The Macau government yesterday released a consultation paper containing the draft bill and began a consultation period till the end of next month.
Violations of the planned security law could carry a maximum penalty of 25 to 30 years in jail.
Critics say the draft bill looks toned down compared with a Hong Kong version published in 2002. Macau is putting forward lighter penalties and avoids controversial measures such as widening police powers and outlawing the possession of seditious publications.
Macau Secretary for Administration and Justice Florinda da Rosa Silva Chan said her government had not referred to the Hong Kong draft bill.
Ms Chan said that since 2004, her government had been studying national security laws of other continental law jurisdictions, particularly Portugal and Italy, in drafting the bill.
She also said the proposed legislation was in line with the Johannesburg principles on national security, freedom of expression and access to information, adopted by a group of international experts in 1995.
Mr Ho said the proposed law would not infringe on people's freedom of expression as guaranteed by the Basic Law. The chief executive, who will step down late next year, said he was confident that the law would be passed by the Legislative Assembly within his term.
Macau legislator Au Kam-san said the draft had failed to introduce public interest and the public's right to know as a defence against charges related to state secrets.