China Steps up Pressure on Hong Kong Over Sedition, Subversion Laws

2017-11-17
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Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei is shown in a Nov. 16, 2017 photo.
Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei is shown in a Nov. 16, 2017 photo.
Hong Kong Government Press Office

Chinese officials are stepping up pressure on Hong Kong to pass draconian security laws that could leave its citizens open to accusations of subversion and sedition, after mass protests led to the shelving of similar plans in 2003.

In a speech that was greeted by protests on Thursday, the chairman of Beijing's Basic Law Committee, Li Fei, called on the city to pass the national security legislation as soon as possible.

And on Friday, the head of Beijing's top think-tank on Hong Kong, Lau Siu-kai, said that even more legislation will be needed to counter "threats" faced by the city.

"The pressure from Beijing is always there because Beijing increasingly worries that Hong Kong might become a threat to national security," Lau told Hong Kong government broadcaster RTHK.

"Beijing expects the Hong Kong government and Hong Kong people to at least show some enthusiasm, show some active efforts to prepare the ground for future legislation," Lau said, adding that Chinese officials are well aware of resistance to the laws, but put it down to "insufficient authority" wielded by the city's government.

Li Fei said growing talk, especially among young people, of independence for the city was a direct consequence of a failure to outlaw such speech with sedition laws.

In a speech broadcast live to students in dozens of high schools across the city, Li said the Basic Law shouldn't be referred to as the city's mini-constitution, because its political and legal powers are entirely derived from mainland China.

No room for debate

Basic Law Committee member Rao Geping said there will be "no room for debate" over the security legislation, required under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

"There is no room for debate here, but the timing of when such legislation is introduced is not a simple matter," Rao said. "I don't foresee an easy passage through the Legislative Council, but it has been 20 years now, and Hong Kong still hasn't managed to complete the task of legislating under Article 23."

"This legislation should be a matter of urgency."

Under the terms of the 1997 handover, Hong Kong was promised the continuation of its existing freedoms and way of life for 50 years under Chinese rule.

But a U.S. congressional body said on Wednesday that Beijing's "increasing pressure" on Hong Kong is eroding the city's promised autonomy, known as the "one country, two systems" framework.

It said the barring of six directly elected pro-democracy lawmakers after Beijing intervened to rule their oaths of allegiance invalid has caused apprehension about the city's judicial independence.

Under huge pressure

"This poses a significant threat to the representation of pro-democracy voices in the legislature," the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission said in its 2017 annual report.

"Mainland China continues to either disregard or ignore Hong Kong’s rule of law and its related commitments to the international community," the report said.

It said the August 2017 jailing of student protest leaders, including Joshua Wong, "[escalated] a wide-scale crackdown that has further eroded freedom of expression in Hong Kong."

James Sung, politics lecturer at Hong Kong's City University, agreed, citing China's parliament's recent introduction of a clause banning "insults" to the national anthem into the Basic Law.

"Hong Kong is under huge pressure right now, what with the insertion of national security related legislation [banning disrespect to the Chinese national anthem] into Annex 3 of the Basic Law by the National People's Congress," Sung said.

"Now there is a requirement for Hong Kong to create local laws according to the central government's specifications," he said.

"This is very different from its previous interpretations of the Basic Law ... because now we have the central government filling gaps in Hong Kong legislation using its own means," he said.

Recent surveys indicate that some 40 percent of young people are open to the idea of independence for Hong Kong, and Sung said that any Article 23 legislation must ban moves to "split national territory."

"It's pretty clear that 'splitting the country' means Hong Kong independence," Sung said. "But the legislation will also include bans on threatening national interest."

Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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