Two Sessions, two cities: what can HK learn from Macau’s experience of national security legislation?

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

Macau’s experience of national security laws since 2009 can shed light on how the legislation that Beijing is devising for Hong Kong will be enforced there, observers say while warning against simply copying its model.

With the central government requiring a new organisation to oversee the proposed national security law in Hong Kong, observers believe the city can learn from its neighbour’s establishment of a commission chaired by its leader.

But some of Macau’s reforms from 11 years ago such as specifying that only local judges of Chinese nationality could hear national security cases and the closer sharing of intelligence with mainland officers would be difficult to introduce in Hong Kong given the differences between the cities’ politics, judiciary and police, commentators have said.

Unveiled during the two sessions of China’s most important annual political event, the National People’s Congress (NPC), the country’s legislature, plans to “prevent, stop and punish” secession, subversion, foreign interference and terrorism in a law tailor-made for Hong Kong, to be added to Annex III of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, without the need for local legislation.

It specified that Hong Kong must “establish an organisation and enforcement mechanism to protect national security”, according to a resolution put forward at China’s legislature on Friday.

In a controversial move, the NPC resolution also proposed that organs of the central government would set up agencies in Hong Kong to safeguard national security when needed.

China’s only two special administrative regions have progressed at vastly different rates in enacting the national security legislation, as required under the Basic Laws of both cities.

Macau’s local legislation took effect in 2009 without significant public opposition, while Hong Kong’s bill was shelved in 2003 after half a million took to the streets in protest, and has not been revived since.

In recent years, Macau’s authorities have introduced legislation to further strengthen the mechanisms for protecting national security.

Its Legislative Assembly passed a bill last year to amend the Judicial Organisation Framework Law, and stipulated that all cases involving national security would only be tried by local judges of Chinese nationality.

Political scientist Eilo Yu Wing-yat, an associate professor of government and public administration at the University of Macau, said such reforms could not be replicated in Hong Kong.

“This is not something that can be copied in Hong Kong, given that many Hong Kong judges are from Britain,” he said, warning Beijing against taking that approach in the city.

“It would also trigger another round of social unrest as Hong Kong people treasure the rule of law and freedom more than Macau people do.”

Yu said due to the lack of judicial professionals in the casino hub, Chinese authorities have started sending mainland-born judges to work in Macau courts.

The assembly is currently scrutinising another bill to empower the Judiciary Police to establish new divisions dedicated to investigating terrorism, intelligence gathering and policy research.

Macau opposition lawmaker Au Kam-sun said such bills did not draw huge controversy given the many years of cooperation between enforcement bodies in Macau and the mainland.

“The Macau police exchange intelligence with their Guangdong counterparts even on crime operations or crime prevention. Citizens have been getting used to it.

“But in Hong Kong, the opposition would be huge if the same was enforced following all the police brutality in last year’s extradition bill protests,” he said referring to the anti-government unrest that erupted last summer.

Analysts also noted that in March 2009, national security legislation met little opposition in Macau when lawmakers voted on its clauses.

Despite the absence of any cases under the legislation since its enactment, Macau set up in 2018 a national security commission, chaired by its chief executive, to further protect national security.

Members, including the city’s security, police and justice chiefs, meet twice a year to help the government organise and coordinate its work to uphold sovereignty, security and the development of national interests.

Observers and Hong Kong’s pro-establishment politicians agree that Hong Kong can learn from Macau’s national security commission.

Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative to the standing committee of the NPC, said a similar high-level commission could be set up in Hong Kong, but added he believed the city needed to find alternative approaches for enforcement and the judicial process.


Category: Hong Kong

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