Hong Kong: Carrie Lam dismisses concerns over rights

Carrie Lam dismisses concerns over rights
Carrie Lam reassures Hong Kongers. Source: Getty Images
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Daily US Times: Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam robustly defended a controversial national security law planned by China ‍and said other countries “have no place” interfering in the territory. The law would ban treason, secession, sedition, and subversion, what critics described that it would limit the city’s freedoms.

This is the first public comment by Ms Lam since the proposed law resurfaced.

Carrie Lam defended the law saying it was a “responsible” move to protect the law-abiding majority and denied the accusation that the law would curtail the rights of Hong Kongers. These rights – set out in the Basic Law which is Hong Kong’s mini-constitution – have been in place since the territory was handed back to China in 1997 by the UK. The Basic Law guarantees certain freedoms to Hong Kongers, such as the right to protest, which do not exist on the mainland.

There was a brief protest in the weekend and police fired tear gas as thousands of people took to the streets.

What is happening with the law?

This is not actually a law, but a proposal – being dubbed a ”draft decision” – that will be put to a vote at China’s rubber stamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), this week.

If that vote is passed, the proposal will be fleshed out into a draft law and by the end of June, it could be in force.

Political figures from across the world have added to the growing condemnation of Beijing’s planned new security law in Hong Kong, but in her weekly press conference, Ms Lam said other countries had “no place in interfering with this arrangement”.

She said, no country would tolerate having a flawed national security legislation, and Hong Kong, as part of China, was no different.

Signatories from Australia, North America, Asia, and Europe called the plans a “comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law and fundamental freedoms”.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the plans earlier this week, which he described as a “death knell” for the city’s freedoms.

Canada, Australia, and the UK have also expressed their ”deep concern”.

Why does Beijing want to bring in the law?

Hong Kong is an economic powerhouse and a semi-autonomus region. It was required to introduce such a law after the handover from British control to Chinese rule in 1997. But its unpopularity means it has never been done – the government tried in 2003 but had to back down after 500,000 people took to the streets.

Hong Kong was rocked by months of protests last year, sparked by a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

Now the Chinese government argues the new security law in Hong Kong is necessary to “prevent, stop and punish” such protests in the future.

China may also fear September’s elections ho Hong Kong legislature. If last year’s success for pro-democracy parties in district elections is repeated, it will be a big headache for China, and government bills could potentially be blocked.

How did she address concerns?

Carrie Lam repeatedly said there has been no detail yet, but the text of China’s ”draft decision” should reassure the public.

She also spoke of the “positive response” from the public in the past few days, saying it “flies in the face of what those overseas politicians are saying”.

Carrie Lam said, the bill would target “a handful of people” involved in subversion or terrorism, and anyone worried about it should wait for the full details to be released.

Hong Kong’s freedoms, vibrancy and core values “will continue to be there”, adding that “Rights and freedoms are not absolute.”

The law would enhance Hong Kong’s status as a global financial centre, rather than damage it, she said.

What is in the proposed law?

The proposed new security law in Hong Kong includes an article that says Hong Kong “must improve” national security.

“When needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People’s Government will set up agencies in Hong Kong to fulfil relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law,” the proposed law added.

That means China could potentially have its own law enforcement agencies in Hong Kong, alongside its own.

On Thursday, NPC spokesman Zhang Yesui said: “National security is the bedrock underpinning a country’s stability. Safeguarding national security serves the fundamental interests of all Chinese people, including our HK compatriots.”

Describing Hong Kong as an inseparable part of China, he said it is “highly necessary” for the NPC to exercise its constitutional power to deliberate such a proposal, adding that further details would be revealed Friday.

China could essentially place the draft law into Annex III of the Basic Law, which covers national laws that must be implemented in Hong Kong – either by legislation, or decree.

The NPC is expected to vote on the draft law on 28 May. It will then be forwarded to China’s top legislature, NPC’s Standing Committee, which is expected to finalise and enact the law by the end of June.