Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor brought up the topic of Article 23 legislation in her recent Policy Address, but there is no timetable yet for such move. Whatever the pressures, there is no doubt that Lam has to begin working toward a new national security law, which is what Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates, to fulfill the Hong Kong government’s constitutional responsibility.
Many people in Hong Kong are under the impression that the government will re-launch the Article 23 legislative process only after the 2019 District Council election and the 2020 Legco race are out of the way, so as not to undermine the election prospects of the pro-establishment camp.
However, the truth is, according to some in the political circles, Beijing has already begun to evaluate the situation and gauge the possible reaction in Hong Kong society once the process of enacting Article 23 is activated.
As a pro-establishment figure has pointed out, Beijing has been working aggressively to pave the way for enactment of national security legislation in Hong Kong.
The high-profile bombardment of advocates of Hong Kong independence and “self-determination” in the recent past, as well as a ban on the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, are all part of Beijing’s preliminary work before Article 23 legislation is taken up in Hong Kong, the source said.
These preliminary moves are intended to reduce public opposition in Hong Kong to the minimum once the enactment process is triggered.
Meanwhile, according to another political figure, there is currently a view among Beijing officials that given the existing political atmosphere in Hong Kong, some 200,000 to 300,000 protesters may take to the streets in Hong Kong if the local government embarks on Article 23 work.
From Beijing’s perspective, that projected numbers are undoubtedly something to be reckoned with, but they are substantially lower than the turnout at the July 1 rally in 2003, when over 500,000 citizens joined the ranks of protesters.
According to the political figure, Beijing may be underestimating the potential number of protesters as well as the degree of public backlash against the enactment of Article 23.
It is because, he explained, although Hong Kong’s economy is now in pretty decent shape and there isn’t any outbreak of deadly infectious diseases like SARS, unlike back in 2003, the city has begun to feel the pinch from the escalating Sino-US trade war and slower economic growth in the mainland.
Also, given Hongkongers’ growing worries over unaffordable home prices and sluggish performance of the local retail market, they are likely to erupt in anger if Hong Kong authorities again take up Article 23 at the moment, the person added.
Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah, who has recently met with officials from the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, meanwhile suggested that mainland authorities are in no hurry on the Article 23 issue.
According to him, Beijing officials didn’t bring up the issues of Article 23 or separatism at all during the recent meeting he had with them.
Tong said he doesn’t buy into the notion that Beijing is hurrying Hong Kong into passing a national security law at this point.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov 5
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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