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Opinion | Anxiety over Hong Kong’s national security law – and why it is exaggerated

Hong Kong skyline is pictured from Victoria Peak. ( Photo by REUTERS/Navesh Chitrakar)

By Chan Tan Tan, Deputy Secretary of Young DAB

There are still a lot of concerns about the details and enforcement of the national security act in Hong Kong. The people in the city, however, should not overreact to the law, for most of us – even when you are one of the active critics against Beijing – will not be prosecuted under the new law.

Background

The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress announced in late May that plans to draft a national security law for Hong Kong were on-going as the city could not “legislate the national security law according to the Basic Law in the near future”. Protests over an extradition law, allegedly interfered by “foreign forces”, turned into riots last year, which serves as a significant proof that Hong Kong has become a loophole to homeland security in China.

Undoubtedly, the riots have already brought serious damages to our home, economically and socially, whether there is any evidence of foreign interference in the protests. Some protesters, peaceful or not, waved national flags of other countries to seek assistance from foreign governments to “free Hong Kong” by asking them to send troops to the city or recognizing Hong Kong as a sovereign country. Even worse, rioters commit violent crimes such as vandalism, assault and even murder in the name of justice – just like terrorists in the rest of the world. The national security law, in one way, can deter people from promoting terrorism or separatism.

Major Concerns

Nonetheless, citizens and investors in Hong Kong are concerned about losing freedom of speech, their rights to protest and the city’s judicial system once the new law is imposed. Propaganda from the pro-democracy camp and the lack of details of the law for the moment intensify our anxiety over the unprecedented measures such as the central government setting up its own institutions in the city responsible for the security and reserving the right to hold jurisdiction over cases “in very special circumstances”.

Some politicians also argue that Beijing bypasses the city’s administration as well as the Legislative Council as the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region is constitutionally obliged to enact laws for national security on its own. According to them, the central government can impose and alter other laws in Hong Kong at will, which marks the end of “One Country, Two Systems”.

The Truth

Two years ago, controversy over the co-location arrangement almost delayed the opening of High Speed Rail in Hong Kong. Opposition lawmakers claimed that enforcing laws across the boundary would become a common practice and thus make a great threat to free speech and democracy. Yet none of these have happened since the opening of the railway.

This is how the anti-China politicians smear both the local and central governments by instilling fear to gain support from the public. They played the same trick when the bill of national security was first introduced into Legco and voted against it back in 2003.

Ironically, the same politicians are now claiming that the legislation should be done locally.

With more and more details of the law disclosed, we know that common law principles such as the presumption of innocence and other human rights safeguards will be ensured. The city will also lead enforcement of the law. People in Hong Kong should realize the law’s impact on them is minimal as only a minority of the “protesters” are terrorists and/ or separatists. In other words, our core values like freedom of speech and judicial independence are still well preserved.

Moreover, the central government agency and its agents are required to follow Hong Kong laws while they are collecting intelligence and handling relevant cases. A commission to safeguard national security will be set up and chaired by the chief executive, which will be supported by the Chinese national security body in the city. This shows Beijing’s determination to uphold the principle of “One Country, Two Systems”.

The local administration, on the other hand, should remember the lesson they have learned since last year. They need to settle the existing deep-rooted conflicts in society and rebuild trust between people in the city and both the central and regional governments while they are promoting the benefits of the law. Otherwise, the city will only be thrown into chaos again.

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