Now is the perfect time to push through national security law

Carrie Lam has the mandate – an election win and instructions from the president – to do just that and the conditions could not be more favourable

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 1:30am
UPDATED : Monday, 18 December, 2017, 1:51am

Hong Kong, get ready for Article 23.

Until last Friday, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was offering the same take on universal suffrage and national security legislation. Then, after meeting President Xi Jinping during a visit to Beijing, the chief executive completely changed her tune.

Since her election campaign, she had been saying she would wait for a favourable environment before reviving plans to enact political reform and Article 23, the section of the Basic Law that requires local legislation against treason, secession, sedition and subversion. The implication is that she would stall on the political front and instead focus on social and livelihood issues, which primarily mean housing.

Now, all that has changed.

Hong Kong must enact Article 23 national security law on its own – or risk China imposing one on it

“As Chief Executive … I have a responsibility to create favourable conditions [for legislation of Article 23],” she told reporters after the Friday meeting with Xi.

In the past few months, mainland honchos have been expressing impatience at the lack of progress on the national security law in Hong Kong. Now, Beijing seems to have instructed Lam in no uncertain terms to get it done.

While Lam might have hoped for more time before jumping back into the trenches, she really has little to lose and everything to gain with such a mandate. If she could push through Article 23, she would vindicate Beijing’s confidence in her and be guaranteed a second term. If not, she could always retire, having done nothing worse than her three predecessors.

The trick for her is to press ahead without causing another upheaval or crisis, such as the massive Occupy protests in 2014 and the march of half a million people against Article 23 in 2003. The conditions today might be more favourable than before.

After the three-month Occupy demonstrations, Hong Kong has been experiencing protest fatigue. The city may not be ready for another mass resistance. Of course, it may yet manage to galvanise, but that would largely depend on the opposition’s ability to provide some semblance of leadership and convince the public it’s worth taking to the streets again.

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

But the opposition has been split and splintered, and is demoralised. The post-Occupy rise of radical localism, with its call for Hong Kong independence, has not only helped undermine the camp’s traditional democratic but patriotic message; it also provides the perfect justification for national security law.

Now may be as good a time as any for Article 23.