Hong Kong national security law (NSL)
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Carmen Cano de Lasala, the head of the European Union office to Hong Kong and Macau. Photo: Jonathan Wong

National security law tarnishes Hong Kong’s image and leaves European Union firms revisiting plans, bloc’s envoy says

  • As she wraps up her four-year posting, Carmen Cano de Lasala warns the city’s attractiveness to businesses has suffered
  • The 1,600 EU firms based in Hong Kong count on the rule of law and free flow of information, she says
The European Union’s outgoing envoy for Hong Kong has warned that the city’s international image has been damaged by the imposition of the national security law and companies from the EU will have to reassess their business strategy in the medium-to-long term.

Carmen Cano de Lasala, head of the European Union office to Hong Kong and Macau, said she had seen more self-censorship in the media, universities and schools in the city after the law took effect on June 30.

“The law has created a lot of fear and uncertainty on what the offences of subversion and collusion with foreign powers mean and how it will be implemented,” she said. “It is a different Hong Kong, different from the Hong Kong I found four years ago,” said Cano, who was posted to the city in September of 2016 and will vacate her post on Friday.

In an interview on Tuesday, Cano told the Post that Hong Kong’s attractiveness to businesses had suffered, and that the EU did not see the new law as conforming to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – or to China’s international commitment to upholding the “one country, two systems” governing framework.

“The national security law and the subsequent development we have witnessed, including the storming of the office of a newspaper, has damaged Hong Kong’s international image,” she said, referring to the August 10 raid on the headquarters of Apple Daily, which involved hundreds of officers, some of whom rifled through journalists’ desks.

“We have 1,600 companies operating in Hong Kong, more than we have in Japan or the United States,” she continued. “Our companies feel at home here, but the feeling is that the goalpost has moved.

Police officers stand guard in front of the Apple Daily office in Hong Kong as it was raided on August 10. Photo: Reuters

“In the medium-to-long term, they will reassess their situation and business strategy in Hong Kong.”

According to a recent poll, nearly four in 10 members of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong (AmCham) are considering relocating from Hong Kong due to the national security law.

The sweeping Beijing-drafted national security law imposed on June 30 outlaws acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, charges that carry a maximum penalty of life imprisonment.

European Union ‘deplores’ Beijing’s move to pass national security law

Legal scholars and opposition politicians have warned that the law, with its vaguely defined offences and broad powers for police and mainland agents, poses a threat to freedom in the city,

“Our companies want to remain politically neutral, but they need the unique Hong Kong system, characterised by the rule of law, [and] freedom of expression and press,” Cano said. “People working in financial services also need a free flow of information.”

I have learned a lot about the resilience and courage of Hong Kong people
Carmen Cano de Lasala, EU’s outgoing envoy
Cano also paid tribute to peaceful demonstrators who took to the streets last year to protest against an extradition bill that would have allowed the transfer of fugitives to the mainland.

“There were anecdotes of people cleaning the streets afterwards, marchers giving way to an ambulance after learning there were elderly people stuck in it,” she said, referring to an incident at a June 16 march last year.

“I have learned a lot from Hongkongers. I have learned a lot about the resilience and courage of Hong Kong people.”

On the violence that began to characterise the movement as the months of unrest wore on, Cano said the EU had issued a number of statements condemning violence, and asking for proportionate use of force by police.

“The frustration of young people has increased since last year … It is the limitation on expressing their political rights, and little or no advance in democratic reform,” she said. “The goal of universal suffrage is in the Basic Law, which is expected to be implemented.”