HONG KONG • A national security law that will soon be imposed on Hong Kong will be “like installing anti-virus software”, a top Beijing official said yesterday, in a speech that also suggested the degree of autonomy Hong Kong would have when the post-colonial agreement on its status runs out in 2047 could depend on how the city behaves until then.
The comments by Mr Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, were the most detailed from a senior party cadre since Beijing announced plans last month to outlaw subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference.
His remarks came a day before the restless city marks one year since huge and often violent protests erupted, raging for seven straight months in the most direct challenge to Beijing’s rule since the city’s 1997 handover from Britain.
“Once in force, this law will be like installing anti-virus software into Hong Kong, with ‘one country, two systems’ running more safely, smoothly and enduringly,” Mr Zhang said, referring to the policy under which China allows Hong Kong certain freedoms and autonomy denied to its citizens on the Chinese mainland.
Opponents fear the national security law – which is currently being drafted in Beijing and will bypass Hong Kong’s legislature – will bring political oppression to a business hub supposedly guaranteed freedoms and autonomy until 2047.
On the mainland, anti-subversion laws are said to be used to stamp out dissent.
During his speech, Mr Zhang repeated Beijing’s assertions that the law would target only an “extremely small number of people”.
“The opposition camp radical separatists have been mistaking the central government’s restraint and forbearance for weakness and timidity,” he said. “They have gone too far.”
Millions of Hong Kongers hit the streets last year during the months of rallies triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition Bill, which would have allowed fugitives to be sent to the mainland.
The protests were viewed as the culmination of years of rising fears among Hong Kong residents that Beijing was prematurely eroding the city’s freedoms.
Beijing saw the protests as a plot by foreign powers to destabilise mainland China.
“The opposition camp… wants to turn Hong Kong into an independent or semi-independent political entity, a bridgehead for the external powers to oppose China and the Chinese Communist Party and a chess piece which external powers can use to contain China,” Mr Zhang said.
“From my point of view, the key problem in Hong Kong is not an economic problem, nor a livelihood problem concerning people’s housing and employment… It is a political problem,” he added.
The planned national security law approved by China’s Parliament last month has also proposed allowing mainland security agents to set up shop in Hong Kong for the first time.
Mr Zhang dismissed “rumours” they might make arrests and send suspects to the mainland. “National security organisations have to follow the laws strictly when they are handling cases in mainland China, how is it possible for them to become unconstrained in Hong Kong?” he said.
In rare comments on Hong Kong’s long-term future, Mr Zhang indicated, speaking via a video link to an online seminar about the city’s mini Constitution, that how Hong Kong’s people behaved now with regard to the political situation would affect its post-2047 status.
Japan hopes to draft a joint statement on China’s new security legislation on Hong Kong at the next Group of Seven foreign ministers’ meeting, a Japanese government source familiar with the matter told Reuters yesterday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had said earlier that Japan is watching the situation in Hong Kong with “deep concern”, after Beijing approved the national security legislation.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS