China Politics

China is moving in with national security law as Hong Kong legislature 'has failed to deliver,' official says

Key Points
  • Last week, Beijing introduced a draft national security law that will bypass the legislature in Hong Kong, reigniting concerns over eroding freedoms in the special administrative region and triggering protests over the weekend.
  • But "in fact, it is a failure at the legislature that we have not delivered this national security law for 23 years," said Bernard Chan, a deputy to the National People's Congress.
  • The Hong Kong government is required to draft a national security law in accordance with Article 23 of the territory's mini constitution, the Basic Law — but it has not been able to. A previous attempt to introduce national security legislation in Hong Kong in 2003 was shelved after mass protests.
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Hong Kong 'failed to deliver' on national security legislation: Official

China's central government is introducing a national security law in Hong Kong because the territory's authorities have not been able to do it locally for over 20 years, a Hong Kong official said on Tuesday.

"In fact, it is a failure at the legislature that we have not delivered this national security law for 23 years," said Bernard Chan, a deputy to the National People's Congress.

"Basically, the mainland has delegated that legislation to us, to Hong Kong, to do ourselves but we failed in 23 years," Chan told CNBC's "Street Signs" on Tuesday.

Last week, Beijing introduced a draft national security law that will bypass the legislature in Hong Kong, reigniting concerns over eroding freedoms in the special administrative region and triggering protests over the weekend.

The draft law would target acts of secession, subverting state power and organizing and carrying out terrorist activities, as well interference by foreign or external forces.

The Hong Kong government is required to draft a national security law in accordance with Article 23 of the territory's mini constitution, the Basic Law — but it has not been able to. A previous attempt to introduce national security legislation in Hong Kong in 2003 was shelved after mass protests.

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Hong Kong activists call for protests in response to Chinese security proposal

While some would argue there was no rush to introduce the legislation — "this is before last year," said Chan.

Beijing now feels there is an urgency to introduce this law as it feels that there are serious national security issues in Hong Kong, due to long-drawn social unrest sparked by protests over a scrapped extradition bill.

"After the last year, there are now serious security issues they need to address. It's hard to pass legislation in Hong Kong these days, so the central government is taking the initiative and going forward with it," Chan told CNBC on Tuesday.

Beijing is likely to introduce the law using Article 18 of the Basic Law which states that national laws can be applied to Hong Kong if they are under Annex III and related to defense, foreign affairs or "other matters outside the limits" of Hong Kong's autonomy. 

The Hong Kong government still needs to put in place its own national security law under Article 23, but it would be "very difficult" to do so in the legislature, said Chan. He said that Beijing's proposed legislation was not a circumvention of the law.

Chan said Beijing's top priority is national security and that the central government wants Hong Kong to return to normalcy. 

"We are seeing things like acts of terrorism in Hong Kong, and what matters to China today now are issues such like secession; we are seeing people holding flags asking for Hong Kong independence, we are seeing signs where people will actually want to subvert state power or against the Central People's Government and clearly, we also see there is meddling from foreign countries, foreign influences," Chan said.

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Hong Kong leader: 'Disproportionate commentary' on protests from the West

Hong Kong politicians have repeatedly alleged foreign influence behind the anti-government protests. In January, the city's leader Carrie Lam told CNBC "perhaps there is something at work" but admitted: "Well, I have no conclusive evidence to answer your question, but it is for all to see that what has happened in Hong Kong on this occasion has attracted disproportionate commentary from Western media, from overseas governments and politicians."

Regardless, Chan said Hong Kong does not have a say in whether it wants a national security law or not.

"That piece of legislation (on) national security has always been a part of the constitutional obligation to Hong Kong. China delegated that obligation to us to deliver but we failed to deliver," he said, adding that it was "only logical" China now wants to take the decision back to implement the law as Hong Kong authorities have simply failed to do it on their own.

"It's not like Hong Kong can have a choice of choosing to legislate or not legislate. There has never been a choice."

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