Hong Kong localism and independence

Hong Kong National Party ban ‘reasonable, logical and legal’: top Beijing advisers weigh in on police plan for separatist party

Pro-government heavyweights Maria Tam and Tam Yiu-chung say move against party has legitimate basis, but legal scholar and pro-democracy politicians fail to see how organisation poses a threat

PUBLISHED : Friday, 20 July, 2018, 7:11pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 October, 2018, 1:23pm

Two of Hong Kong’s top advisers to Beijing on Friday backed an unprecedented police proposal to ban a local separatist party, saying it was in line with the central government’s clear rejection of any bid to undermine Chinese sovereignty over the city.

Maria Tam Wai-chu, recently elevated to vice-chairwoman in a committee advising Beijing on Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, said the Hong Kong National Party had “clearly and repeatedly” expressed its mission and revealed it could even resort to force when necessary.

“If they are not serious about it, they shouldn’t talk about it. So I think one can only take it that they are serious,” she said.

On Tuesday, Hong Kong’s security minister announced he was considering the force’s recommendation to ban the party under the Societies Ordinance, and gave the organisation and its leader Andy Chan Ho-tin until August 7 to convince him otherwise.

Police accused the party of being an “imminent threat” to national security, and argued for pre-emptive action in an 86-page document. The paper was accompanied by 20 disks and 706 pages of transcripts of speeches and records of the party’s activities – a result of police monitoring since 2016.

Legal scholars decried the force’s reasoning, arguing their approach was overly severe and put freedom of association and expression at risk. Britain and the United States also voiced concerns, and on Friday the European Union weighed into the debate.

A spokesman for the EU’s Office to Hong Kong and Macau said freedom of association and expression were fundamental rights guaranteed under the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

“We hope the decision will fully respect these freedoms, which are essential to Hong Kong’s success and prosperity,” the spokesman said.

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Tam, however, said there was a legitimate basis for a crackdown against the party.

“Beijing has made it absolutely clear there is zero tolerance of [advocacy for] Hong Kong independence,” she said.

Her view was echoed by Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole representative to China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

A ban would be “reasonable, logical and legal”, he said.

He urged the Hong Kong government not to tolerate the party’s actions, including its public calls for independence and attendance of forums in Taiwan hosted by pro-independence groups there.

Asked if the National Party was first in line in a concerted crackdown on political groups advocating independence or self-determination, Maria Tam was tight-lipped and said it was “too early” to tell.

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“It will all depend on the circumstances surrounding their calls or actions for self-determination – I cannot speak in a vacuum,” she said when pressed. “Every case will have its own set of facts.”

However, pro-democracy Civic Party chairman Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said there was no “concrete” evidence the party was a threat.

“They have not taken any action showing they are about to commit a crime,” Yeung said. “I thought China had become strong and powerful. How could [this party] threaten its national security?”

In April 2016, one month after the National Party was formed, then Hong Kong justice minister Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said the government was studying whether the group had flouted the Companies Ordinance, Societies Ordinance or Crimes Ordinance, and had been “liaising with law enforcement agencies”.

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This came after an article in the overseas edition of Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily called for “legal action” against political parties advocating Hong Kong independence.

Yuen, who in January returned to private practice, on Friday declined to comment on what conclusion the government study had reached during his term.

Criminal law professor Simon Young, from the University of Hong Kong’s law school, said he failed to see how the ordinances would affect organisations practising “peaceful expression, assembly and association”.

But for parties advocating “self-determination”, such as Demosisto, Young said they would need to prove they were not advocating any territorial split from China, not undermining Chinese sovereignty and not promoting foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs.

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The “expressed means” of advocacy were also important, Young said.

“If what is being advocated is the internal form of self-determination, which is essentially having greater democracy in Hong Kong, then it is hard to see how this would endanger the territorial integrity or independence of [China].”

Lau Ming-wai, vice-chairman of the government’s Youth Development Commission, said he was not worried that banning the party might muzzle freedom of expression among the young.

“I agree with the government’s move,” Lau said. “[The party] should bear responsibility for forming such a group.”

He added: “Discussion of independence doesn’t carry much significance. Of course, you can sit in a cafe and talk about it. But why would you want to discuss it?”

The Civil Human Rights Front, an umbrella body formed of 50 pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong, will on Saturday host a protest march urging against a ban. It said outlawing the organisation would be a slippery slope to using the Societies Ordinance to crack down on pro-democracy groups.

Member Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit said the front’s opposition to a ban did not mean it supported Hong Kong independence.

“Anyone who accuses us of advocating independence is confusing the issue,” he said.

Additional reporting by Shirley Zhao and Jeffie Lam