More National Security Work to be Done, Warns Hong Kong's Leader Amid Crackdown

Carrie Lam also unveils plans to retrain civil servants and build a new metropolis near the border with Shenzhen.
By Cheng Yut Yiu, Lau Siu Fung and Gao Feng
2021.10.06
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More National Security Work to be Done, Warns Hong Kong's Leader Amid Crackdown Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam delivers her annual policy address at Hong Kong's Legislative Council, Oct. 6, 2021.
AFP

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Wednesday vowed to extend a citywide crackdown on anyone trying to "destabilize" the city and oppose China, with new laws in the pipeline targeting the media and online service providers, as well as expanded definitions of "espionage" and "terrorism."

Lam also called for a new urban area near the border and a second high-speed rail link to neighboring Shenzhen, in line with ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) plans to integrate Hong Kong and Macau into the Pearl River delta "Bay Area," vowing to release more land for development in the process.

Lam said the authorities "have spared no effort to fulfil our responsibility to prevent, suppress, and punish acts and activities that endanger national security in accordance with the law."

But she added that "there is still a substantial amount of work" to be done, citing further national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law "to prevent those who are opposed to China and attempt to destabilize Hong Kong from taking advantage of the situation to mislead the public with ill intentions."

The national security law, which took effect on July 1, 2020, ushered in an ongoing and citywide crackdown on all forms of public dissent and political opposition, with election rules changed to ensure only pro-CCP candidates can run and dozens of former opposition lawmakers now behind bars on "subversion" charges.

Lam said in her annual policy address on Wednesday that her administration will push ahead with further legislation on espionage and other "covert" activities to continue a crackdown on what Beijing insists was an attempt by hostile foreign powers to foment a "color revolution" in Hong Kong during the 2019 protest movement.

New laws will also be needed to "combat fake news" and "safeguard cybersecurity," Lam said, with more regulations relating to "schools, social organizations, the media, and the internet."

Oath-taking ceremonies for anyone holding public office will continue, she said. Dozens of pro-democracy politicians have been expelled from the Legislative Council (LegCo) and the District Council in recent months, after an administration official judged their oaths invalid.

Lam said forthcoming elections for her replacement and for LegCo in December would be run on the basis of "patriots administering Hong Kong."

Electoral changes brought in after a landslide victory for pro-democracy candidates following months of mass popular protests will likely ensure that no pro-democracy candidates will be approved to run in the LegCo election, while the proportion of candidates chosen by a Beijing-backed committee has grown.

Lam welcomed the mass resignation of pro-democracy lawmakers in protest over the expulsion of their colleagues in late 2020.

"Since those members who opposed for the sake of opposing left LegCo in November last year, the current legislative session has seen fruitful outcomes," she said.

She said government broadcaster RTHK and LegCo have both been ordered to "show respect for the national flag, national emblem, and national anthem," following a restructuring at RTHK that means program content is subject to the approval of a government-backed committee.

Civil servants will also be given further training at senior level in "national studies," with visits to mainland China, Lam said.

Developing the border area

Lam also discussed plans for greater social and economic integration with neighboring Shenzhen, unveiling projects to develop the border area into a "a metropolitan area" of 300 square kilometers.

She also announced plans for a new cross-border Hong Kong-Shenzhen Western Railway linking Hung Shui Kiu to the special economic zone of Qianhai, another part of the economic integration plan.

Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei said Lam's policy address wasn't aimed at Hong Kong's seven million residents, but at her bosses in Beijing.

"The main audience for this policy address wasn't the people of Hong Kong, but the central government [in Beijing]," Lo told reporters. "She's fighting to get re-elected [by Beijing's supporters], not for the support of the people."

Hong Kong media quoted government sources as saying that a new cybersecurity law will regulate water and electricity suppliers, the Mass Transit Railway, and other large infrastructure service providers, who will be required to appoint a person responsible for ensuring security.

While details of Hong Kong's new legislation have yet to be made public, some are concerned it will include legislation similar to that passed in Singapore on Oct. 4, which forces internet service providers to "avoid threats to national security and sovereignty."

Singapore's new legislation requires ISPs, social media platforms and website owners to provide data, block content and remove apps that spread "hostile" content.

'Provisions too vague'

Zhuang Jiaying, associate professor of the Department of Political Science at the National University of Singapore, said many of the law's provisions are too vague.

"The regulations talk about participation in matters of public controversy or political disputes, which is a bit vague," Zhuang said. "One of the possible ways you can violate the law is 'lowering confidence in the Singapore government,' which is also a bit vague."

"Some people are wondering whether the Prevention of Foreign Intervention Act is actually aimed at political opponents ... as there is a lot of room for interpretation by administrative officials and law enforcement officers," he said.

"Some of the interpretations are made at the policy level rather than at the legislative level, and can be changed at any time at the whim of the decision-maker of the day."

Journalist Han Liying said she could be targeted under the law simply for receiving foreign funding, in a manner similar to the suppression of civil society under the national security law in Hong Kong.

"We have clarified many times that we have not participated in activities subject to foreign interference, but these clarifications are of no use," she told RFA. "What I am worried about is that this law will give the ruling party more powers to go after my [organization], or other independent media and civil society organizations."

"This bill is actually very easy to abuse," Han said.

Zhuang said the new law on foreign interference gives the Singaporean government extra powers to regulate the internet, which weren't in the city-state's national security legislation.

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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