Taking soft and hard lines at the same time
Carrie Lam has repeatedly said there is no plan to legislate the national security law unless the social and political climate is favourable. But the likely banning of the Hong Kong National Party may well establish a precedent to exercise such powers without the need for new legislation
Politicians don’t always mean what they say, but sometimes they do. In such instances, it pays to listen to them literally. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has effectively spelled out her government’s policy on Article 23 and national security. So, whether you are yellow, blue or what not, you may actually want to take her at her word.
She has repeatedly said there is no plan to legislate the national security law under the article in the Basic Law unless the social and political climate is favourable. That sounds like a soft line. We may never see any attempt to legislate while she is in office.
However, after the Security Bureau and police initiated moves to ban the Hong Kong National Party, Lam spelled out the Communist Party line that would make Beijing proud.
“[The government] must resolutely and without ambiguity uphold Chinese sovereignty, safety and territorial integrity,” she said. “Any speech or acts to advocate Hong Kong independence will not be condoned and most certainly will face suppression.” Meanwhile, police have labelled the party as posing an “imminent threat”.
It may seem contradictory, being soft and hard at the same time, but it is not. Opposition critics of Article 23 legislation have long pointed out that existing laws could already take care of requirements for national security and public order.
That had never been tested, until now. The government is just appropriating the opposition’s legal suggestions; how ironic!
Riot charges have been successfully brought against more than a dozen participants in the Mong Kok riot/Fishball Revolution of 2016, resulting in heavy sentences that count in years.
Now, section 8 of the Societies Ordinance is being cited in an attempt to proscribe the National Party on the grounds of national security, public safety and public order. Critics say such use of the law is unprecedented and therefore unjustified. Well, of course not! What they don’t remember, or fail to mention, is that their own legal experts have pointed the way all these years.
Party leader Andy Chan Ho-tin says he is likely to take the government to court. Officials will welcome it. If they prevail, as is likely, the expected ban will become a court-sanctioned precedent.
Lam can then avoid a protracted battle for Article 23 legislation with the opposition and the public while exercising Article 23-like powers to crack down on secessionists and other groups deemed too subversive.