Govt think tank adviser addresses 9 key questions on natl security law for HK

By Bai Yunyi Published: 2020/7/2 2:07:18

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Editor's Notes:

The Standing Committee of the National People's Congress on Tuesday voted to pass the Law of the People's Republic of China on Safeguarding National Security in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, and the law came into effect at 11 pm that night. Many people in Hong Kong still have many questions, even worry about the new law. For instance, will the new central government's national security office in Hong Kong abuse its power? What are the differences between those who "subvert the State power," "opposition groups" and those who"protest against the government"? Their concerns perhaps stem from Western media hype thats suggest the national security law will "severely violate" the rights of local residents, and claim that Hong Kong has entered an "authoritarian era" and "freedom is dead."

To clarify the situation, Global Times (GT) reporter Bai Yunyi discussed these issues in an exclusive interview with Lau Siu-kai (Lau), a vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

GT: Some people believe the national security law endows too much power to the chief executive and executive authorities in Hong Kong, and this will erode Hong Kong's judicial independence. What's your assessment?

Lau: The national security law is different from ordinary legislation in every country. It allows different law enforcement from ordinary criminal charges ranging from arrest, indictment, interrogation and sentencing. It also guarantees special powers for law enforcement and executive authorities, to secure national security. All of this should not be interpreted as erosion of judicial independence. There were no such law for Hong Kong before, so a little misunderstanding over the national security law is understandable. 

Some opposition groups used this to mix up the national security law and ordinary criminal laws, apply ordinary law enforcement method to the national security law, to intentionally cause panic. However, the doubts and concerns in Hong Kong society are manageable. The HKSAR needs to roll out interpretation work of the law, letting residents understand the goal and meaning of the law. 

GT: Some residents worry: Will the central government's national security office in Hong Kong abuse its power or will a "secret police force" or "secret law enforcement" appear?

Lau: The national security law is not an "all-round national security law" in real sense. National security laws in many other countries cover all that is deemed to endanger national security. Currently, the national security law for Hong Kong targets four categories of crimes, and this limits the jurisdiction of national security agencies in Hong Kong.

Secondly, the chances for the national security office to take action are very rare. The law clearly points out that the central government trusts the HKSAR government to handle national security issues. The office will focus on supervision and guidance and may not participate much in law enforcement cases. 

The national security law aims to deter rioters, and stifle potential crimes in the cradle. If there were a necessity for large-scale searches and frequent prosecution, the law is not an effective national security law. I believe this is an effective law, as long as it manages to deter rioters, the central government's national security office won't need to do much. In a nutshell, it is a law that is only used when it's forced to. 

GT: What's the difference between those who "subvert state power" and "opposition groups"? Will there be opposition groups in Hong Kong?

Lau: State power not only includes the central government, it also includes the HKSAR government; it not only means executive organs, it also means legislature and judiciary. In another words, normal operation of those institutions could not be impeded. Now democratic parties in Hong Kong have concerns, as they often launch anti-government campaigns on streets to diminish the authority of the HKSAR government, or thwart government's implementation of policies in the Legislative Council. For instance, the election of the chair of the Legislative Council was held up for half a year. 

But it does not mean that any anti-government protest or filibustering at the Legislative Council is violating the national security law, unless they severely sabotage state power. For instance, massive vandalism of the Legislative Council building last year that paralyzed the legislative organs, could be counted as a violation of the national security law for Hong Kong. 

In judging whether a case violates the national security law, one's actions and motive should also be taken into consideration. Whether this person is backed by an organization and whether the person's actions cause serious consequences. The law cannot be used randomly, nor will it impact or restrict Hong Kong residents' political expression.

GT: Will Hong Kong residents still be able to protest?

Lau: Absolutely yes. Daily political expression won't be affected. Protests are an important part of Hong Kong people's engagement in politics, and such rights won't be deprived after the national security law is enacted. Of course, protests that turn into the besieging police headquarters; or charging the legislative council and besieging the HKSAR government building are a different story. For normal protests, voicing dissatisfaction with the government, I see no connection with the national security law. 

GT: Will Hong Kong residents violate the national security law for Hong Kong for criticizing the central government?

Lau: Late Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping once said in 1987 that, "If some people in Hong Kong curses the CPC or China, we would allow them to curse, but what if they turned it into actions, making Hong Kong an anti-mainland base in the name of 'democracy'? Then we need to intervene."

Actually, there are people criticizing the CPC and the central government. "Criticisms" itself is not a problem, but other intentions behind some speeches and publications will be considered. If they are using fake information, throwing mud on the central government and national leaders on purpose, instigating people to form wrong understanding or even hatred to the mainland and the central government, then there will be problems. They might have violated the national security law for Hong Kong, and other laws.

The other consideration is the social effect. As there are many political gossip books in Hong Kong, which actually have no influence on society at all. Most people only read those to kill time, they don't believe them. But if the books had no actual effect on mobilization, I believe there would be no need to apply such a high-level law such as the national security law for Hong Kong. I think the political gossip books will still have space in Hong Kong, but they need to be more careful.

GT: Will there still be freedom of the press?

Lau: There are national security laws all around the world. The US has so many national security laws, among which some even greatly violate personal rights and freedom. But is there anyone saying the US has lost its freedom of press?

There were no  national security law for Hong Kong before, but it does now. Will the whole of Hong Kong society be "transformed" overnight? It is not very likely.

The national security law and the freedom of the press could coexist. Moreover, with the national security law, the society could be peaceful and stable, and the freedom of speech and the freedom of the press could be better applied and people do not need to worry about something being "settled privately" with a wrong word.

GT: The national security law for Hong Kong defines "terrorist activities." Will behaviors like we saw during the occupation of the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, where rioters used bows and arrows and Molotov cocktails, be considered "terrorist activities?"

Lau: This depends on how severe the actual situation is according to the judgment of the HKSAR government. If there are large-scale- terrorist activities that have made a great effect on society, or led to great panic among people, then it would be violation that could fall under the national security law for Hong Kong. But if it does not reach such level, it could be managed by local laws.

In my opinion, the turmoil in 2019 is close to a situation where the national security law could be applied.

GT: Tens of thousands people might have been coerced into participating in the turmoil to protest the so-called extradition bill. Will these people's past behavior contravene the national security law?

Lau: No. Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office of the State Council, has made a clear statement: Let bygones be bygones. The aim of the national security law is not to take revenge, but to push those people to rethink their past and reform themselves, and not to commit illegal and violent acts in the future. Quoting a saying from Chairman Mao Zedong: learn from past mistakes to avoid future ones, and cure the sickness to save the patient.

GT: Some Western media claimed that Hong Kong will enter an "authoritarian era." How do you respond to this?

Lau: These countries all have their own intelligence agencies, their own national security laws. Facing demonstrations and riots, the force they use is much more severe than in Hong Kong. So I think such a comment is a double standard and intensive "stigmatization."

Of course, the aim of the national security law for Hong Kong is to prevent them from collecting intelligence or inciting a "color revolution" in Hong Kong, so it is no surprise that they have been so furious about the law. If they do not harm Hong Kong and confront China with practical actions, we would not pay much attention on them. Actually, they understand that every government has the right and responsibility to safeguard national security. China has sovereignty over Hong Kong, why shouldn't it exercise the power?


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