‘Soft consultation’ on national security legislation suggested
Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a member of the Executive Council, which is Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s de facto cabinet, says there is a need to enact a national security law under Article 23 of the Basic Law in order to protect Hong Kong from separatism.
Tong said now is not the right time to introduce a bill into the Legislative Council. But he suggests setting up an unofficial platform to launch a kind of “soft consultation” to seek the broadest possible consensus in society.
Tong also said Victor Mallet’s case has no particular bearing on the Article 23 legislation. This is because the journalist did not intend to split the country — he was just disrespecting the Basic Law.
However, the senior counsel feels legislating Article 23 is necessary to suppress separatism and pro-Hong Kong independence activities.
There is no law in Hong Kong that outlaws dividing the country, he argues. In the absence of a national security law, the special administrative region government can only rely on things such as the Societies Ordinance and Crimes Ordinance to combat proseparatism activities.
He told China Daily: “Before enactment of the anti-subversion law, the government should conduct a ‘soft consultation’. This is to touch base with various sections of the community in regard to national security, the influence of external forces and protection of State secrets. It should also examine how to strike a balance between these and human rights and various freedoms,’’ Tong said.
“This kind of soft public consultation is conducive to creating a more amicable atmosphere … otherwise, successful legislation is not guaranteed if the government simply introduces a bill into the LegCo without doing adequate preparatory work,” he added
Tong realizes the chief executive is under pressure to enact Article 23. But after failing badly to enact the national security law in 2003, he thinks the government should not rush. This is because it does not have much confidence in passing such a law in the legislature — where the “pandemocrats” will most likely obstruct it.
“Is there a pressing need for Article 23 legislation? I don’t see it now. Otherwise, the Hong Kong SAR will speed up the process,” he said.
Discussing whether the final draft of the 2003 bill could still be used, Tong said this depends largely on whether the central government authorities believe it is sufficient to combat separatism.
Ronny Tong Ka-wah,
In light of changing international circumstances, he fears the 2003 version is no longer valid.
Tong hopes a soft consultation will be launched within the current term of government. The best opportunity for legislation may be after 2020, as Lam has hinted because of impending district council election in 2019 and LegCo election in 2020.