Hong Kong has a responsibility to guard the safety of mainland China’s socialist system, the head of Beijing’s national security office in the city has said, warning that those who believe local “street politics” can bring change across the border are “playing with fire”. Zheng Yanxiong, director of the Office for Safeguarding National Security, spelled out the bottom line for Hong Kong at a legal forum attended by senior local officials on Saturday, warning the city still faced risks and hidden dangers despite Beijing’s implementation of the security legislation in 2020. Beijing officials and heavyweights also suggested there was an urgency to enact a local version of the national security law, as required under Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, while Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said Hong Kong’s governing team should enhance political awareness and be fearless of struggle. In his keynote speech to senior Hong Kong officials, Zheng warned that freedom and autonomy in the city were not unlimited but within boundaries set by the central government. “Autonomy is not freewheeling. The prerequisite of [Hong Kong’s] autonomy is first to ensure national sovereignty, security and development interests. After all, a high degree of autonomy comes from a high degree of self-consciousness and reassurance for the central government,” Zheng said via video conferencing. He added it was equally important for Hong Kong to safeguard “one country, two systems”, referring to Beijing’s governing principle for the city. Rule of law under siege from democracy promoters: state official in Hong Kong “It is both our duty to maintain the security of the capitalist system in Hong Kong and the security of the socialist system on the mainland. “We must not ignore the fundamental concerns of the central government, and overthrow the leadership of the Communist Party and socialism with Chinese characteristics. It is foolish and playing with fire to have the delusions that street politics can end up changing the mainland’s political system to adapt to Hong Kong. “This is the bottom line for the rule of law in Hong Kong that one must not cross,” he said, adding people should not cling to British colonial values, or treat the United States and the West as bosses, and ignore the fact the city had returned to China. Zheng said while the implementation of Beijing’s national security law in Hong Kong two years ago had successfully tackled anti-China activities, including interventions by the US and the West under the excuse of the “rule of law”, the city was not yet risk-free. “All in all, Hong Kong also faces many risks and hidden dangers in safeguarding national security. We must adhere to the rule of law, solve problems involving national security through legal means and procedures,” he said. Can Hongkongers still hold June 4 commemorative events? “It is hoped that the Hong Kong government will further improve the legal system for safeguarding national security, and make a breakthrough in the in-depth implementation of the security law.” The police force’s National Security Department has arrested 186 people and prosecuted 115 since the legislation came into force on June 30, 2020. The law bans acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with offenders facing up to life imprisonment. The courts have convicted 10 individuals and given them jail sentences of up to nine years. Zhang Yong, deputy director of the Legislative Affairs Commission of China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, said Hong Kong was still in the early stages of building a sound institutional system for safeguarding national security, and more work had to be done soon. “There is a lot of ambiguity in society about the national security situation and the risks faced in Hong Kong,” he told the forum. “Laws alone are not enough. We must also focus on cultivating a social and political environment for safeguarding national security, effectively raising national security awareness in all walks of life … and striving to create a social atmosphere and political ecology that is conducive to the implementation of the law,” the official said. Zhang added that when China’s legislature in 1990 passed the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, it also granted powers to Hong Kong to enact legislation prohibiting activities that endangered national security, known as Article 23. “Unfortunately, Hong Kong has not been able to complete the legislation for a long time, and the risk of endangering the country is becoming more obvious,” he said, adding this had prompted the National People’s Congress to enforce its constitutional right and formulate the national security law in 2020. Deng Zhonghua, president of semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said the city had a constitutional responsibility to complete the Article 23 legislative work as soon as possible. He said hidden dangers that posed national security risks to the city remained. “Some Hong Kong independence organisations operate overseas and endanger national security online. It is necessary to continuously strengthen and protect the national security system in order to resist risks,” said Deng, a former deputy director of the cabinet-level Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO). Echoing the Beijing officials, city leader Lam also said the government’s work in safeguarding national security was still in its infancy, and officials must understand the severe and complex geopolitical situation, with local radicals and even terrorist-linked underground organisations emerging from time to time. “The next administration must further improve political awareness, national security awareness and judicial matters on a broader basis and be fearless of struggle,” said Lam, whose term ends on June 30. Liu Guangyuan, commissioner of China’s foreign ministry office in Hong Kong, accused foreign forces of smearing the security law but said these organisations’ strongholds in the city had been removed one after the other since the legislation was implemented. Wang Linggui, deputy director of the HKMAO, said some people with ulterior motives had continued to slander the law for “so-called violations of the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents”. “But facts speak louder than words. We have seen an end to the turbulent situation in the city … the administrative order of the government has returned to normal, and the administrative environment has improved,” he argued. The legal conference titled “Thrive with Security” was the last session of a three-day event hosted by the Department of Justice to mark the 25th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. Guest speakers for the event included mainland and local officials, legal professionals as well as prominent pro-Beijing politicians.