No need to apply national security laws to Hong Kong, says top Basic Law Committee member

Elsie Leung dismisses suggestion that national counterespionage legislation could cover city

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 January, 2015, 2:20pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 January, 2015, 4:17am

A top adviser to the central government on the Basic Law says there is no need for Beijing to impose the mainland's new national security law on Hong Kong.

Describing the idea as inappropriate as well as unnecessary, Elsie Leung Oi-sie dismissed the suggestion by a local delegate to the national legislature at the weekend that Beijing unilaterally impose its tough security legislation in the city in the absence of local laws on the matter.

National People's Congress deputy Stanley Ng Chau-pei raised the idea amid growing concern from local and national officials about calls for self-determination for Hong Kong.

Leung, vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law Committee under the NPC Standing Committee, said there was no point in having the debate, especially at a time when Beijing was drafting a new law to replace its own national security legislation.

"The national laws are more constitutional and concerned with principles, whereas Hong Kong's legal system needs more solid and clearer [provisions] to define its area and ways of application," Leung, a former Hong Kong justice minister, said. Besides, the discussion was "inappropriate … before knowing what the new law looks like".

Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong is supposed to enact laws on national security. But an attempt to do so in 2003 prompted massive protests, and no government has resurrected the idea.

Ng drew criticism for his suggestion that Beijing had the power to introduce national laws in Hong Kong if the city was in a state of war or experiencing chaos that was beyond the government's control and threatening national unity.

The debate over national security was stoked by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's policy address last week. In it, he accused the University of Hong Kong's student union magazine Undergrad of championing self-determination in its February issue and in a book titled Hong Kong Nationalism. Leung reiterated on Sunday that his government had no plans for a national security law.

The draft of the new national security law will be deliberated by the NPC's Standing Committee later this year.

The law follows new counterespionage legislation passed last year under which foreign organisations and individuals who conduct or instigate spying can be punished.

Basic Law Committee member Maria Tam Wai-chu said the implementation of national laws was an extreme measure that was unlikely to happen.

Instead, she suggested Hong Kong pass its own security law - to prohibit treason, secession, sedition and subversion - as required under Article 23.

Pan-democrats have long feared that a national security law would stifle debate and suppress the rights and freedoms of Hongkongers.

But Tam said Article 23 was often misunderstood.

She said security laws were not intended to stifle the city or suppress freedom, but would benefit Hong Kong. Article 23 "lays down rules to safeguard social order", she said.