Hong Kong to focus on security laws over economic revival

Chief executive says only after the completion of legislation can Hong Kong strive for economic development.
By Chen Zifei for RFA Mandarin, Alice Yam and Chingman for RFA Cantonese
2024.01.25
Hong Kong to focus on security laws over economic revival Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee leaves after a question and answer session regarding the legislation of Article 23 national security law, at the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Jan. 25, 2024.
Lam Yik/Reuters

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee has vowed to complete legislation of the city’s own security laws this year, reiterating its priority on national security in the face of what he describes as increasingly complex geopolitics and secretive espionage tactics over public discontent as well as economic and social issues.

To effectively deal with sudden and unpredictable new risks, Lee stressed that legislating Article 23 of the Basic Law – Hong Kong’s mini constitution – with laws to prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against Beijing is urgent.

Lee was responding to questions from lawmakers of the Legislative Council, or LegCo, on Thursday about the progress of legislation on Article 23, and what the government is doing to revive Hong Kong’s economy, which is being hammered by underperforming stock and property markets.

With legislation completed, Hong Kong can only then fully strive for economic development, Lee told lawmakers, revealing that the work has entered the final stage and will be completed this year.

But such a move has been controversial. A previous attempt in 2003 failed following mass protests and was shelved until Beijing’s imposition of the National Security Law in 2020.

“The Hong Kong National Security Law helps us deal with the most critical national security issues in 2019. But there are still many issues, such as treason, and the management of some political organizations and political activities with foreign contacts. The relevant laws have not yet been perfected,” Lee said. 

He argued that compared with foreign countries, which often have more than 20 national security-related laws, Hong Kong has just one, and this would be clearly explained internally and to external stakeholders. A “response and refutation team” and an “interpretation team” will be established to respond to propaganda from hostile forces during the legislative process.

But exiled former legislator Ted Hui said Lee’s argument that foreign countries have multiple security-related laws is aimed at downplaying the damage and impact of such laws on Hong Kong.

Since Lee took the helm as chief executive, he has not only taken a tough position politically but also on policies relating to people’s livelihood, cracking down on areas such as traffic violations and hawking, sparking criticisms even from pro-government lawmakers. 

At LegCo on Thursday, pro-communist legislator Paul Tse criticized the government for overreaching – law enforcers issuing traffic tickets 24/7 and penalizing hawkers heavily for road obstruction, plainclothes officers lurking to catch jaywalkers, and authorities cracking down on bookstores and factory canteens.

“Will the government review its heavy-handed enforcement of alleged excessive fines and money grabbing?” Tse said. 

Lee said such opinions only evoke “conflicts”, likening Tse’s vocabulary to terms used during the 2019 anti-government protests, which Beijing and the Hong Kong authorities described as “black terror.”

Still, even pro-communist organization Patriotic Force founder Chan Ching-sum could no longer stay silent. 

“Since Lee Ka-chiu took office as the chief executive, I have only seen the current government trying every means to mentally abuse the people,” she posted on Weibo, referring to Lee’s Chinese name. “I can’t stand the Lee Ka-chiu government! But there is no way to complain. Now as an ordinary Hong Kong citizen, I now make a complaint on Weibo against Lee Ka-chiu!”

Chan’s post was quickly deleted but not before being circulated widely online.

Translated by RFA staff. Edited by Taejun Kang and Mike Firn.

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