Article 23: Hong Kong’s autonomy brooks no external interference

The Article 23 legislation exactly embodies Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy, and this law-making process is in essence an internal affair that solely falls within the responsibility of the local and central governments.

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Photo taken on July 14, 2020 shows the Golden Bauhinia Square in south China's Hong Kong. (Xinhua/Wu Xiaochu)

The four-week public consultation on the proposed legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) of the People’s Republic of China (hereinafter referred to as “the Basic Law”) ended days ago. It was part of the legislative process launched by the HKSAR government to exercise its constitutional responsibility and fulfill its statutory obligation under Article 23 of the Basic Law.

Although the Basic Law came into force in 1997, when this international metropolis was returned to its motherland, the requirement stipulated under Article 23 was not met immediately. It has given the HKSAR government a buffer period as long as 26 years to explore how to implement the legal duty while exercising governance with Hong Kong’s characteristics.

That is to say, the Article 23 legislation is to fix a loophole, which should have been done years ago, instead of imposing on Hong Kong some new obligations. What will be written in the laws is mainly the prohibition of any act, speech, or organization that aims at treason, secession, sedition, or subversion against the central government, or the incitement of these acts by foreign political organizations or bodies. Banning them is indispensable for China’s national security and Hong Kong’s lasting peace and stability, and this type of provision is customary in the national security legislation of many countries.

That being said, some countries, two in particular, mumbled their dissatisfaction as they always do whenever there is some evolution in Hong Kong society. The United States and Britain have accused the HKSAR government of undermining the city’s autonomy and freedom and threatened to impose sanctions and other punitive measures. They once again blamed the legislation for breaching the Sino-British Joint Declaration and labeled it as an infringement of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.

However, these arguments are flawed and misleading, as they ignore the fact that both the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law explicitly state that Hong Kong has the constitutional duty to enact national security laws on its own. The Article 23 legislation exactly embodies Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, and this law-making process is in essence an internal affair that solely falls within the responsibility of the local and central governments. By misinterpreting this legislation, making up a false narrative, and even threatening to impose sanctions, the United States and Britain aim to interfere with Hong Kong’s autonomy and further undermine China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

Furthermore, the criticism from the United States and Britain is nothing but a display of hypocrisy and double standards, as they themselves have enacted similar or even more draconian laws to protect their own national security interests.

For instance, the U.S. Espionage Act of 1917 criminalizes the disclosure of any information related to national defense or foreign relations of the United States. One of the most prominent cases is that of Julian Assange, who is accused of violating the Espionage Act of 1917, among other charges, by the U.S. government. He is currently facing extradition from Britain to the United States, where he could face up to 175 years in prison if convicted. The U.S. Patriot Act of 2001 expanded the powers of the government to conduct surveillance, searches, and seizures of individuals and organizations suspected of terrorism or other national security threats, often without judicial oversight or due process.

Similarly, the UK Official Secrets Act of 1989 prohibits the disclosure of any information that is deemed to be damaging to the interests of Britain or its allies. Moreover, the UK Counter-Terrorism and Security Act of 2015, which imposed a statutory duty on public bodies to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism, gives the government power to ban or restrict the activities of individuals and groups that are considered to be extremist or radical.

These examples show that the U.S. and the British governments know crystal clear that freedom has boundaries and that national security legislation is a must-have for any society. They also show that the two countries have no qualms about sacrificing the rights and freedoms of their own citizens and others in the name of national security, yet they have the nerve to lecture and condemn Hong Kong for building up a reasonable legal framework that has been missing for so many years. People have to wonder: is it because the United States and Britain prefer a Hong Kong with widespread riots like those in 2014 due to a lack of safeguards provided by national security laws? Is it a disordered, chaotic, lawless, and deserted Hong Kong that they want to see? Do the American and British companies and businessmen who have invested in and devoted themselves to this city for decades agree with that?

For those who might have concerns over any infringement of their lawful rights, I would recommend they read the consultation document that was issued by the Security Bureau of the HKSAR on Jan. 30. The document has clearly demonstrated the HKSAR’s legal obligation, rational justification, and careful deliberation in safeguarding national security. It has shown the HKSAR’s respect for the views and rights of its people. The criticism from the United States and Britain, who have their own stringent and far-reaching national security laws, is hypocritical and baseless at best. At worst, they have an axe to grind.

Xin Ping

The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for CGTN, Global Times, etc. He can be reached at xinping604@gmail.com.

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