HONG KONG • Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam yesterday said Beijing’s proposed national security law for the city, which has raised alarm in the global financial centre and abroad, would not trample on its cherished rights and freedoms.
Business leaders, international trade chambers and diplomats have said pushing through the legislation could mark a turning point for China’s freest city, having an impact on a broad spectrum of its activities and intensify social unrest.
The Chief Executive spoke as online forums called for a general strike and protests today against a national anthem law that is due for its second reading in the city’s Legislative Council, stoking renewed concern over what many see as Beijing’s encroachment into Hong Kong affairs. The anthem law would criminalise disrespect of China’s national anthem.
“There is no need for us to worry,” Mrs Lam said, referring to Beijing’s aim to directly enact the national security law. “In the last 23 years, whenever people worried about Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression and protest, time and again, Hong Kong has proven that we uphold and preserve those values.”
She did not explain how the freedoms that Hong Kong enjoys would be upheld.
The United States has branded the law – which aims to tackle secession, subversion and terrorist activities – a “death knell” for the city’s autonomy and Britain said it was deeply concerned by a law it said would undermine the “one country, two systems” principle under which Hong Kong is governed.
The legislation could also see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in one of the world’s biggest financial hubs.
Hong Kong’s Bar Association said the draft had “worrying and problematic features”. The Department of Justice warned against “unwarranted speculation” over it.
Mr Victor Li, the elder son of Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka-shing, said he hoped the law would help the city bounce back from months of social unrest.
“Hong Kong is now in an atmosphere of political turmoil and business uncertainties,” he said. “I hope the related draft can stabilise Hong Kong and help its society and economy return to normal.”
The junior Mr Li, 55, is one of Hong Kong’s first tycoons to speak out on the recent political developments. During last year’s unrest, the senior Mr Li, 91, pleaded with Beijing to be lenient towards the city’s youth, while imploring pro-democracy activists to show more understanding.
PRESERVE HONG KONG VALUES
In the last 23 years, whenever people worried about Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression and protest, time and again, Hong Kong has proven that we uphold and preserve those values.
HONG KONG LEADER CARRIE LAM, saying that Beijing’s proposed national security law for the city would not trample on its cherished rights and freedoms.
The comments prompted China’s highest law-enforcement body to accuse Hong Kong’s richest man of encouraging crime.
On Sunday, police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse thousands of people who thronged the streets to protest against the proposed legislation. About 200 people were arrested.
It was the first major protest since pro-democracy demonstrations rocked Hong Kong last year over an unsuccessful plan to enact an extradition law with China. The unrest plunged the city into its worst crisis since its return to Chinese rule in 1997. More protests are expected in the coming weeks.
As many Hong Kong people fret about the national security law, demand for virtual private networks surged sixfold last Thursday, the day the plan was unveiled.
The US said Hong Kong could lose the preferential treatment it accords the city that makes it a vibrant interface between communist China and the West.
Beijing and city officials have toughened their rhetoric recently, describing some of the acts in the protests as terrorism and attempts at secessionism, remarks echoed by Mrs Lam yesterday.