China to skip Hong Kong forums, limiting local input on security bill

Linda J. Dodson

HONG KONG — All open forums to solicit views on China’s pending national security laws covering Hong Kong will be held on the mainland, the territory’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, said in Beijing on Wednesday.

The National People’s Congress bypassed Hong Kong’s deadlocked legislature in late May to enact its own framework for punishing acts of “separatism, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference” in the city. The sudden move by China’s parliament alarmed Hong Kong residents and Western governments, who fear the planned new laws imperil civil liberties.

The Hong Kong Bar Association, which represents lawyers in the city, earlier on Wednesday released a letter that it sent to the parliament’s Standing Committee, which has been empowered to write and adopt the new security legislation.

“We firmly believe that meaningful public consultation on the proposed legislation with the public in the [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] is critical,” the association said.

Lam affirmed the new laws would be enacted under mainland Chinese procedures. She spoke Wednesday after a three-hour meeting with Beijing officials including Vice Premier Han Zheng, Public Security Minister Zhao Kezhi and Xia Baolong, China’s top official on Hong Kong affairs.

“The national security law is essential to ensure the long-term stability and prosperity of Hong Kong,” Lam said. “Beijing’s plan exhibits its care and love for us.”

Lam was told that China will accelerate preparations to put the security laws into effect, possibly this month. Officials in Beijing also said that there is no change in the central government’s policy toward enacting the laws.

The forums in Beijing and Shenzhen, the mainland city abutting Hong Kong, will let interested parties including scholars and legal professionals express their views, she said.

“[The laws] will only affect a very small number of people in Hong Kong, while the freedoms enjoyed by the public will be maintained,” Lam said.

But the consultation process is unlikely to dampen concerns. Travel between Hong Kong and mainland China remains restricted to combat the coronavirus pandemic, and Lam’s government on Tuesday extended these restrictions by another month.

Many opposition figures have been blacklisted from crossing the border by mainland authorities, while those involved in recent political protests fear they could be subject to arrest.

Worries about the pending laws extend to the business community. A member survey published Wednesday by the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong found that 83.3% of respondents are “very” or “moderately” concerned. The survey was conducted earlier this week.

Of 180 respondents, 60% said they thought the laws would harm their operations, especially by making it harder to attract or retain talent or by jeopardizing Hong Kong’s status as an international business center.

Yet most respondents said they and their companies are staying put in Hong Kong. Some members said they understood the need for the laws to help end the political protests that have wracked the city over the past year, with frequent violent clashes between police and demonstrators.

HSBC, which has been pressured by Lam’s predecessor C.Y. Leung to take a public stance, released a statement Wednesday on Chinese social media platform WeChat noting that Peter Wong, the chief executive of its mainland unit, had signed a petition of support for the security laws.

“We reiterate that we respect and support laws and regulations that will enable Hong Kong to recover and rebuild the economy,” said the British bank, which counts on the city for about half its pretax profits.

The political stakes continue to rise. Two pro-establishment lawmakers in Hong Kong told media separately on Wednesday that opposition to the security laws could be grounds for disqualification from the city’s Legislative Council election in September. Some candidates have been excluded from recent elections because they expressed support for the city’s independence or self-determination.

In an article published by a Hong Kong newspaper on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to let millions of city residents stay in the U.K. for extended periods should the security laws be implemented.

“Many people in Hong Kong fear their way of life — which China pledged to uphold — is under threat,” he said. “If China proceeds to justify their fears, then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away.”

The U.S. last week announced plans to sanction Beijing and Hong Kong over the new laws. Under Hong Kong’s constitution, which came into force in 1997, the city is supposed to enact its own laws against subversion but has yet to do so.

Additional reporting by Zach Coleman and Narayanan Somasundaram in Hong Kong.

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