HK representative on China’s top legislative body touts website as way for residents to submit views on national security law

26-May-2020 Intellasia | South China Morning Post | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Residents worried about Beijing’s planned national security law for Hong Kong can submit their views to the National People’s Congress via an online platform, the city’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body said a day after thousands protested against the law.

But while NPC Standing Committee member Tam Yiu-chung also touted consultations with the Hong Kong government and the city’s Basic Law Committee, local political scholars said they saw little chance of meaningful input from Hongkongers.

Tam’s Monday morning remarks followed the issuing of separate late-night statements from each of the city’s disciplinary forces chiefs welcoming Beijing’s move to impose the law, including one from Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu, who said the legislation was necessary amid acts of terrorism and growing calls for independence.

But the city’s journalist union expressed concern that the new law, the details of which remain unknown, could greatly affect journalists who quote those critical of the Hong Kong or central governments.

On Sunday, large-scale street protests returned to Hong Kong for the first time in months after Beijing two days earlier unveiled a resolution to “prevent, frustrate and punish” threats to national security by outlawing acts of secession, subversion and terrorism.

Instead of asking the city to craft its own law, the central government announced plans at the opening of its annual legislative sessions to promulgate a national security law by listing it in Annex III of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature.

At least 180 people were arrested on Sunday on suspicion of unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct in a public place. Pepper spray, tear gas and a water cannon were used, while a number of officers were reportedly hurt and a lawyer suffered serious injuries after being assaulted by a group of black-clad protesters.

Repeating the government’s stance that plugging national security “loopholes” was an urgent necessity, Tam said Beijing would consult Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s administration and the Basic Law committee while drafting the bill. Lam has gone on record offering her “full support” to the planned legislation.

“For the rest of the public, there’s the NPC website, where you can go and check the progress of different bills and file your own opinions. There is also a list on the website revealing how many comments they’ve received,” Tam said.

“We agree there’s a continuous need for more [explanation] of the law, so that young people will not be deceived. I have also suggested we invite some mainland officials to town to explain further.”

The NPC website to which Tam referred collects public opinion on pending legislation. The website shows the number of comments received but not the comments themselves or government feedback.

But Ivan Choy Chi-keung, political scholar at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the NPC’s opinion-collecting mechanism was very outdated.

“It’s only a passive way of collecting opinions,” Choy said. “In the colonial period, many consultative committees were set up in Hong Kong, pooling representatives from different groups… In foreign democratic countries, they rely on elections to gain a public mandate.”

He pointed out that the NPC Standing Committee contained no voice representing Hong Kong’s pan-democrats or most average citizens. Tam is Hong Kong’s sole representative on the 174-seat body. Basic Law Committee member Albert Chen Hung-yee, a law scholar at the University of Hong Kong, meanwhile, said he believed his committee would have limited room to express its opinion about the law.

According to Article 18 of the Basic Law, the NPC Standing Committee may add a law in Annex III allowing a national law to be applied in Hong Kong by promulgation after consulting its Basic Law Committee and the Hong Kong government, Chen said, adding he thought it likely the committee would be consulted only after the law was drafted.

Addressing worries over the new law’s potential implementation, Tam repeated Chinese vice-Premier Han Zheng’s pledge that it would affect only “a small group of people” those who promote Hong Kong independence, for instance. Tam added he believed the bill would target only those who go beyond words to take more concrete actions.

“I believe the law will clearly set the line to make sure a small number of people cannot use Hong Kong as a base for independence, and it has to go through the process of collecting and adducing evidence. Thus, I guess people will not fall into the net if they are just saying things,” he told a radio programme.

The proposed law will also require the Hong Kong government to set up new institutions to safeguard sovereignty and allow mainland agencies to operate in the city when needed.

Tam said the enforcement mechanism was still subject to discussion, but he highlighted that the Hong Kong police force worked primarily on maintaining public order and “might not have enough resources to gather intelligence”.

Hong Kong Journalists Association chair Chris Yeung Kin-hing, meanwhile, said journalists were worried by the new law as their articles could be interpreted as “harmful” or inciting subversion.

“Officials have not explained the law clearly, and we are worried the move will further tighten freedom of speech and press, and [want to know] how journalists will be protected under the new law,” he said.


Category: Hong Kong

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