Impending Hong Kong security law language stirs ‘growing concern’, former US consul general says

Washington’s former top envoy to Hong Kong flagged language used to guide the establishment of a domestic national security law as a “growing concern” among groups operating in the city who had not previously worried about such initiatives affecting them.

Former US consul general Hanscom Smith said in a discussion at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank, on Wednesday that language in a consultation paper on the Article 23 legislation signalled the possible targeting of connections between entities operating in the city and those overseas.

“When you look at the concept of external interference, although what the government may have in mind is NGOs or civil society or foreign government initiatives … it could also conceivably be applied to education or other aspects of Hong Kong’s international engagement,” Smith said of the coming security bill, which the city is required to enact under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.

Hong Kong attempted to pass Article 23 legislation in 2003, but it was dropped after about half a million people took to the streets in protest amid fears the law could be used to curtail civil rights.

The proposed law introduces five new types of offences: treason, insurrection, sabotage, foreign interference, and theft of state secrets and espionage.

Smith noted a discussion was under way about “holistic security”, a concept he perceived as originating on the mainland.

The retired diplomat described sentiments towards the developments as ranging between measured and uneasy.

“There are some in the business community who I think are apt to focus on what they would see as surface quote unquote stability and think that these national security issues won’t apply to us,” Smith said.

Public backs prompt implementation of Hong Kong national security law: John Lee

“I have also in my conversations got a sense of growing concern about again, uncertainty about the persistence of the predictability, and the rule of law, which has always been one of Hong Kong’s strongest selling points.”

In explaining the “holistic view of national security” used to produce the legislation, a consultation paper released by the Hong Kong government last month “emphasises the necessity to understand and respond to security risks which are dynamic, diverse and often interrelated from a broad, macro and holistic perspective”.

The document said holistic national security encompassed 20 “major, traditional and non-traditional, security fields”. These include economic security, financial security, science and technology security and data security.

While Hong Kong “continues to retain significant differences from the mainland”, Smith said, the emphasis on concepts like holistic national security had led to a decline in “confidence that there are going to be the mechanisms for transparency and accountability that have made Hong Kong so successful”.

‘Hong Kong’s new broadly worded national security offences could stifle press’

Smith’s comments coincide with the end of a one-month public consultation period that Hong Kong’s government ran to gather feedback on Article 23.

Britain’s government also used the occasion of the consultation period’s end to highlight its concerns about the proposed law, some of which echo what Smith said about the possibility that a broad range of international engagements by Hong Kong entities would come under scrutiny.

The UK Foreign Secretary’s office said its concerns included “the risk that the work of international organisations in Hong Kong could be labelled as ‘foreign interference’”.

“Vague references to ‘external forces’ and the new offence of ‘external interference’ threaten the legitimate and lawful diplomatic and consular activity as protected in the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations,” it said, alluding to a United Nations treaty.


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