Campaigning for independence is not a basic right in Hong Kong, Qiao Xiaoyang says
Beijing constitutional expert tells civil servants that independence advocacy has nothing to do with freedom of expression, a fundamental right in the city, and is ‘hurtful to national feelings’
Advocating independence for Hong Kong has nothing to do with the right to free expression and is unconstitutional, a Beijing expert visiting the city to “promote and popularise” the Chinese constitution said on Friday.
Qiao Xiaoyang, retired chairman of the national legislature’s law committee, made clear to 200 top officials at a closed-door seminar that he did not consider pro-independence calls to be part of freedom of expression, which is a fundamental right enshrined in the city’s mini-constitution.
Ronny Tong Ka-wah, an adviser to Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, quoted Qiao as saying: “[Advocating independence] is hurtful to national feelings and contrary to the national constitution.
“Under the constitution, Hong Kong is a region under China’s unitary system. So, Hongkongers have the duty to uphold the constitution, and shouldn’t do anything against the constitution and oppose the unitary system on the mainland.”
Qiao also said that while the central government would maintain a capitalist system in Hong Kong, it would be unconstitutional to “subvert the socialist system led by the Communist Party”, noted Wong Kwok-kin, a member of Lam’s Executive Council.
Qiao is the second mainland representative within a week to speak at seminars on Hong Kong’s constitutional order being part of China, following Beijing’s liaison office director Wang Zhimin, who on Sunday hit out at local activists for challenging national sovereignty.
While Hong Kong has its own mini-constitution, the Basic Law, Beijing has increasingly harped on the city’s need to understand the country’s constitution.
Qiao’s visit, at Lam’s invitation, sparked questions as to whether he was setting the stage for the government to push through controversial national security legislation for the city.
However, both Lam and Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said separately that Qiao did not come bearing any “special message” on the issue.
Beijing has signalled its rising impatience over the city’s lack of progress in implementing Article 23 of the Basic Law, which requires Hong Kong to enact legislation banning any act of treason, secession, sedition, and subversion against the central government.
But Qiao, the former chairman of the Basic Law Committee under the National People’s Congress, did not touch on the “consequences of acting contrary to the national constitution”, Tong said.
Neither did he mention national security legislation or put “pressure on the administration”, he added.
Another source who attended Friday’s seminar quoted Qiao as saying Hong Kong’s civil servants were not just serving the city, but also the country.
“If you are serving Hong Kong, you are already serving the country, and should be proud of the country’s progress,” Qiao said, according to the source.
Qiao did not issue directives to officials but instead took the opportunity to elaborate on the principles of the national constitution, harking back to history to substantiate his point that China had always had a unitary system of government.
Hong Kong civil servants to get HK$23.7 million worth of ‘national studies training’, some of it conducted by Beijing officials
He did not get many questions. Among the few who quizzed him were Lam, who asked about Beijing’s anti-corruption watchdog the National Supervisory Commission, and Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, who asked about the “relationship between rule of law and system of law”.
When reporters approached him during his visit to the Legislative Council on Friday afternoon, Qiao did not respond to questions. Legco president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said after meeting Qiao for about 20 minutes that it was only a courtesy call.
Qiao, who arrived in the city on Thursday, will attend a forum organised by the Joint Committee for the Promotion of the Basic Law of Hong Kong on Saturday. During his week-long stay, he will reportedly visit the Hong Kong-Zhuhai-Macau bridge and West Kowloon Cultural District.