HK lawmakers vow to complete Article 23 legislation 'at full speed'
Public interest defense proposed, collusion with foreign forces a more severe crime: consultation results
Published: Mar 06, 2024 10:01 PM

Hong Kong file photo

Hong Kong file photo

Some lawmakers in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR), who are also the deputies to the 14th National People's Congress (NPC), returned to Hong Kong and attended a joint meeting on the Article 23 legislation on Wednesday, as finishing the legislation is seen as the most pressing issue for the city. Some NPC deputies from the HKSAR said they will work at full speed to complete it. 

The panel on security, the panel on administration of justice and legal services and the subcommittee to study the matters related to the Article 23 legislation held a joint meeting on Wednesday afternoon, where Hong Kong Secretary for Security Chris Tang Ping-keung said the support rating during the public consultation period exceeded 99 percent, indicating that the majority of Hong Kong residents support the legislation. 

There were 97 pieces of opinions opposing, and Tang noted the figure includes 12 from anti-China organizations or fugitives.

The crimes receiving the most feedback were seditious intent, leaking national secrets and overseas crimes, with most supporting the establishment of extraterritorial effectiveness, Tang said. Also, some opinions proposed improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms, which would be considered if appropriate, he said. 

Some lawmakers raised questions during the meeting about the exception clause of the legislation, especially when it comes to the press and social media. For instance, lawmaker Regina Ip pointed out that there are already panic-inducing statements online, such as discussions about social media platforms like Facebook and Telegram to be discontinued under the law. 

Secretary for Justice Paul Lam Ting-kwok responded that there is no intention to control social media platforms, or prevent their existence. 

Lam emphasized that the legislation targets individuals who use social media platforms to spread certain information. As a financial and trade center, Hong Kong is a place of information flow where there absolutely is no ban on media, he stressed. 

The HKSAR government also issued a statement on Wednesday disapproving and condemning Bloomberg's reports about Hong Kong banning social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube, saying that it falsely reported that the HKSAR would introduce legislation banning the operation of these platforms in the city and caused misunderstanding and panic concerning Article 23 legislation.

In the document summarizing the consultation results, the government indicated that it is considering adopting four recommendations related to crimes in the draft, including those involving collusion with foreign forces under the national security law to be "considered as a more severe degree of crime." 

It's also considering adding a defense of public interest for crimes related to national secrets, introducing provisions similar to "protection of information" for the protection of national secrets; and that "espionage activities" should encompass the use of drones.

Regarding the defense of public interest, the government clarified that the so-called public interest must be of significant importance and that such public interest must outweigh the risks to national security. 

The threshold should be very high, not merely to satisfy public curiosity. In most cases, this threshold will not be met, according to the government. 

Some Hong Kong media, citing unnamed sources, said the draft of the legislation will be submitted for the first and second readings at the LegCo as soon as next week, and the law is expected to be passed in mid-April. 

"The Article 23 legislation is a constitutional responsibility of Hong Kong, and it has been an outstanding task owed to the central government since Hong Kong's return to the motherland," Starry Lee Wai-king, a Hong Kong member of the Standing Committee of the NPC, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Before the two sessions, the LegCo's internal committee has already established a working group on the matter. Once the first reading is finished, a bill committee will review it. The timing of the passage of the Article 23 legislation will depend on the LegCo's procedures, but it's clear that there is a social consensus for swift review and passage of the legislation which will further strengthen Hong Kong's security, Lee said. 

Chinese Vice Premier Ding Xuexiang met the Hong Kong and Macao members of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) in Beijing during the two sessions on Wednesday. 

Irons Sze, a member of the CPPCC National Committee from Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Wednesday that Ding said that Hong Kong residents support the Article 23 legislation and hope that Hong Kong will complete the law as soon as possible, and that we are still facing complicated external situation. 

In recent days, some Western politicians and media in the US have rushed to attack the Article 23 legislation and spread fear and unease, therefore completing the legislative work as soon as possible leaves no time for external forces to further deploy actions to obstruct the process, Lau Siu-kai, a consultant from the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies who is also a senior policy advisor, told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

"Completing the legislation as soon as possible is also conducive to maintaining national security and the stability in Hong Kong," Lau said.