HKSAR to finalize Article 23 in 2023 with focus on preventing spying activities
Published: Jan 17, 2023 09:32 PM
Hong Kong

Hong Kong

John Lee Ka-chiu, Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government, said in his latest interview with local media that the government hopes to complete legislation for Article 23 of the Basic Law in 2023, which is expected to prevent national security risks, particularly targeting spying activities, with the help of new technologies. 

Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that the HKSAR government shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government.

However, some 25 years after Hong Kong's return to the motherland, legislation for Article 23 of the Basic Law has remained incomplete, making Hong Kong a weak link in national security and an easy target for hostile foreign forces to disrupt public order and jeopardize social and economic interests.

After the social turmoil in 2019, it's important to prevent potential national security risks and the local government has asked the Security Bureau to formulate the second draft of Article 23, which should target spying activities, organizations in disguise and new technologies, as well as other means, Lee was quoted as saying in a report by the Hong Kong Commercial Daily on Tuesday. 

The legislative process for Article 23 has not been finalized for many years, but there has been one draft for the legislation in an early stage, Lee said. After external forces tried to interfere in Hong Kong affairs during the social turmoil in 2019, Lee said he realized that we should indeed prevent these extreme events, so he asked the Security Bureau to come up with the second draft. 

The first draft included all kinds of security situations while the second draft targets spying activities with all kinds of means especially new media, new technologies and so on, so that we could fix all the possible loopholes, Lee said. 

Legislation for Article 23 is Hong Kong's constitutional responsibility and an important part of the city in fixing loopholes in national security-related laws, legal experts said. 

Also, Article 7 of the national security law for Hong Kong (NSL) stipulates that the HKSAR shall complete, as early as possible, legislation for safeguarding national security as stipulated in the Basic Law of the HKSAR and shall refine relevant laws.

For example, the offense of terrorism covered in the NSL is not included in Article 23, while offenses for treason, sedition and theft of state secrets are not covered by the NSL, Louis Chen, a member of the Election Committee and general secretary of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

In his first policy address, Lee emphasized that we should increase the awareness of potential dangers and establish a bottom-line thinking, ensuring the lasting work of safeguarding the country's sovereignty, security and development interests, and he is performing his duties as CE and head of the national security committee, Chen said. 

The NSL has three objectives: prevention, prohibition and punishment, but the current means are still mainly intended to prohibit and punish, Lee said. "Not only do we need to use legal means to punish those activities endangering national security, we need to focus more on prevention," he said. 

"To prevent possible risks, we need to adopt measures that could deter some external forces that could endanger the national security of Hong Kong."

There are many organizations of "foreign agents" in Hong Kong under other names, such as institutions or so-called seminars, which are organizations "in disguise," Lee said. If there will be some preventive measures, some organizations "in disguise" will not come to Hong Kong, or their numbers are likely to fall, he said. 

In terms of the timetable of Article 23, Lee said as Hong Kong practices the common law, and many countries practicing the common law do a good job in management and prevention of risks, he asked the Security Bureau and Department of Justice to conduct more studies and research. Hopefully the whole work will be completed in 2023. 

Hong Kong has been at a critical moment of transforming from chaos to good governance to prosperity while the NSL is the important milestone in safeguarding the peace and stability of the city, but some anti-China rioters have not given up meddling in Hong Kong affairs, so that the city still faces severe challenges, Willy Fu, a law professor and vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Legal Exchange Foundation, told the Global Times on Tuesday. 

"Hopefully, the HKSAR government could finalize legislation for Article 23 to effectively prevent, prohibit and punish criminals endangering national security," he said. 

Whether there will be a third draft Article 23 will depend on whether the second draft could effectively prevent those risks and harmful activities, Lee said.