Head of Beijing office overseeing Hong Kong affairs to visit city on fact-finding mission, gather feedback on Article 23 bill, health of economy

The head of Beijing’s top office overseeing Hong Kong affairs will embark on his second fact-finding mission to the city in a year starting on Thursday and intends to solicit views on proposed domestic national security legislation, the Post has learned.

Multiple insiders confirmed the six-day visit by Xia Baolong, who heads the revamped Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), with one saying he also planned to gather feedback on a number of issues from a range of officials and residents on the ground.

“That includes how the economic recovery is going and what events the Hong Kong government is planning,” one source said. “He could be interested in the budget blueprint too.”

The insider added that the domestic national security legislation based on Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, was also on the agenda as Xia “was ready” to assess the latest situation and concerns in society.

The government intends to pass the legislation, which will sit alongside the Beijing-imposed national security law, before the end of the year.

Xia’s trip to Hong Kong will be the second one of its kind since Beijing announced the overhaul of the HKMAO that made it directly answerable to the Communist Party’s Central Committee instead of the State Council.

Speaking to the Post on the condition of anonymity, a Hong Kong official said planning was under way for a series of meetings between Xia and Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu, principal officials, members of the government’s key decision-making Executive Council, lawmakers, representatives from the business sector and young people.

“From our communication with the HKMAO, Xia is keen on meeting people extensively to grasp Hong Kong’s latest situation on the ground,” the source said, adding the exact itinerary would be confirmed within days.

Hong Kong needs to better explain security law to foreign businesses: CY Leung

The visit is tentatively planned to conclude next Tuesday, a day before Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po unveils his annual budget speech and the one-month consultation exercise on the bill ends.

A third insider said it would be “reasonable” for Xia to head to Shenzhen before or after finance chief Chan announced his budget. Chan has been under mounting pressure to come up with a blueprint to cut spending and expand revenue as he projected the city’s deficit could exceed HK$100 billion (US$12.78 billion).

The Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce had earlier estimated that the city’s gross domestic product growth this year will slow to 2.9 per cent, down from 3.3 per cent in 2023.

The government unveiled details last month of the proposed law banning seven types of national security offences. The “Safeguarding National Security Bill” proposed amending several existing laws to expand their coverage and drawing up new ones for five types of offences: treason; insurrection or incitement to mutiny and disaffection alongside acts with seditious intentions; theft of state secrets and espionage; sabotage; and external interference.

The government tried to pass the law in 2003 but then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa was forced to shelve the bill after more than 500,000 people took to the streets in protest.

Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that Hong Kong shall enact its own laws to prohibit seven types of offences, including treason, espionage and theft of state secrets.

The proposed legislation would supplement the national security law imposed on the city by Beijing in 2020 prohibiting acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Diplomats, foreign business chambers in Hong Kong ‘worried’ over new security law

While Beijing-friendly politicians have said the legislation is long overdue, advocacy groups based overseas have expressed concerns. Amnesty International said the legislation could lead to an increase in repression in the city.

One concern expressed at the local level is whether a person arrested over theft of state secrets should be entitled to a public interest defence after some suggested it should not be a crime for journalists to reveal classified materials involving significant public interest.

Xia made a high-profile six-day visit to Hong Kong last April, which analysts dubbed “an inspection trip” that demonstrated Beijing’s greater emphasis on on-the-ground, in-depth research aimed at improving the governance by the administration.

He attended the opening ceremony for National Security Education Day, where he urged Hongkongers to remain vigilant over threats to society and told residents that protests were not the only way to express opinions.

During the trip, he also made a landmark visit to the legislature, the top court and met a range of people.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.