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Consultation of legislation on Article 23 begins

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Hong Kong will enact a new national security ordinance to address risks, Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu announced at a news conference on Tuesday, the same day that the city begins a monthlong public consultation on Article 23 of the Basic Law.

The public consultation on the ordinance, proposed to be titled “Safeguarding National Security Ordinance”, will end on Feb 28.

Lee said enacting Article 23 is a constitutional duty of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, which has remained unfulfilled since the city’s return to the motherland.

Article 23 of the Hong Kong Basic Law requires the SAR to enact laws to prohibit seven categories of acts that endanger national security, including treason, sedition, subversion and theft of State secrets.

Two of the crimes — secession and subversion — are already covered by the National Security Law for Hong Kong, which took effect in 2020, prohibiting four types of acts, including terrorist activities and collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security.

After the social unrest in 2019, the importance of national security has become evident. Given the volatile international situation and increasing geopolitical complexity, it is crucial to address Hong Kong’s national security shortcomings as soon as possible, Lee said.

Lee said the legislative principle of Article 23 is rooted in the “one country, two systems” principle, focusing on safeguarding national sovereignty, security and development interests.

Simultaneously, the law will uphold human rights, respecting and protecting residents’ freedoms within the boundaries of the law, he added.

According to the public consultation paper, the ordinance will introduce several new offenses, including insurrection, sabotage activities that endanger national security, doing an act in relation to a computer or electronic system without lawful authority, and endangering national security with external interference.

The improvements include offenses such as those relating to the protection of State secrets.

The document also lists national security laws from foreign countries for public reference.

Secretary for Justice Paul Lam Ting-kwok and Secretary for Security Tang Ping-keung will lead the explanation work, with other government departments working in coordination as well.

Thematic briefings will be held, not only for Hong Kong residents but also for foreign consulates and chambers of commerce.

Welcoming suggestions from the public, Lee emphasized that the government will ensure people understand that the ongoing legislative work will bring safety, stability and a favorable business environment to Hong Kong, benefiting both locals and those overseas that deal with Hong Kong.

Lam said the legislation should establish mechanisms for effectively implementing and enforcing both the National Security Law and Article 23. This includes enhancing law enforcement powers and improving litigation procedures.

Several lawmakers, legal experts, business leaders and political and social groups, have expressed their anticipation for the timely completion of the legislation of Article 23 and thus to uphold the city’s long-term prosperity and stability.

Maria Tam Wai-chu, a former deputy director of Hong Kong’s Basic Law Committee, highlighted the persisting national security risks despite the enactment of the National Security Law, saying thereby the government must introduce more comprehensive laws and enforcement methods to safeguard social order, ensure the safety of residents and facilitate economic development.

A joint statement issued by all non-official members of the Executive Council said that to effectively prevent risks and threats to national security, the government should seize the opportunity to legislate Article 23 as soon as possible.

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