Hong Kong plans tighter national security laws, sparks global concerns

While the consultation document assures that freedom will be safeguarded and the laws will meet international standards, it raises concerns about increasing threats from foreign espionage and intelligence operations. The document points to the pro-democracy protests in 2019 as evidence of potential risks to national security.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, John Lee, has announced plans to pass tighter national security laws, building on legislation imposed by Beijing in 2020. The proposed laws, known as Article 23, are expected to target espionage, state secrets, and foreign influence, raising concerns among business people, diplomats, and academics about their potential impact on the global financial hub.

Lee emphasized the urgency of passing these laws, stating that Hong Kong “cannot afford to wait.” He highlighted the city’s constitutional responsibility dating back to its 1997 handover from British colonial rule to China. The new legislation aims to address threats such as espionage, treason, sedition, and sabotage, including actions conducted through computers and electronic systems.

While the consultation document assures that freedom will be safeguarded and the laws will meet international standards, it raises concerns about increasing threats from foreign espionage and intelligence operations. The document points to the pro-democracy protests in 2019 as evidence of potential risks to national security.

A 110-page consultation document outlining the need for updated laws will be submitted to the Legislative Council, with the consultation period ending on February 28. The proposed laws include tighter control of foreign political organizations linked to the city.

Critics argue that the 2020 national security law was necessary for restoring stability after the 2019 protests. However, the new laws, mandated by the Basic Law, which guides Hong Kong’s relationship with China, aim to prohibit acts endangering national security. Legal scholars suggest that the new legislation could provide clarity to the vaguely worded 2020 law and address issues with older colonial-era laws.

The consultation document defines a list of state secrets in Hong Kong, covering economic, scientific, and social secrets that could endanger national security if released. It also draws parallels with similar laws in countries like Britain, the United States, Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and Singapore.

Lee repeatedly asserted that the new laws would create a more stable and safe city, emphasizing that they align with international standards. However, concerns linger as a previous attempt to pass Article 23 laws in 2003 was shelved following a peaceful protest by around 500,000 people, leading to the resignation of the then security minister.

As Hong Kong navigates the delicate balance between national security and civil liberties, the proposed laws are expected to undergo scrutiny from both local and international stakeholders, shaping the city’s future trajectory.