Beijing’s top diplomat in Hong Kong has called on envoys and business chambers to avoid doing anything that would undermine their interests as he urged them to back the national legislature’s plans to install a national security law in the city.
Xie Feng said on Monday the international community could rest assured that the law, which might be in place by August, would create a more stable and predictable business environment in Hong Kong.
The commissioner of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong called a press conference that gathered 60 representatives from consulates and 15 business chambers, as well as selected media.
But some diplomats at the event expressed concern about consultation in the drafting of the legislation and mainland Chinese agents’ possible enforcement of the law in the city.
Xie’s message came a day after United States National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien warned that Washington would likely impose sanctions on China if Beijing implemented the law.
Beijing unveiled a resolution at the opening of its annual legislative session on Friday to “prevent, stop and punish” threats to national security by outlawing acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong.
The central leadership has long said such acts are of increasing danger to the city, but those calls have grown more urgent during violent anti-government protests over the past year.
The proposed law would bypass the city’s legislature and require the Hong Kong government to set up new institutions to safeguard sovereignty and allow mainland agencies to operate in the city when needed.
The proposal has sparked worries over the fate of the “one country, two systems” blueprint that has guided Hong Kong since the handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
The National People’s Congress (NPC) is expected to vote on the resolution at the end of its session on Thursday. The resolution will be forwarded to the NPC Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, to come up with the details.
Xie said the law would strengthen Hong Kong’s status as an international financial, trading and shipping centre. “For the majority of law-abiding citizens and foreign nationals in Hong Kong, there is absolutely no need to panic,” he said, adding the law only targeted “a small group of people” who attempted to topple the central government or engage in terrorist activities.
“Do not be intimidated, misled and exploited by those with ulterior motives, and in particular do not be rumour-mongers yourself or join the ‘anti-China’ forces in stigmatising and demonising the legislation, and obstructing and confronting [it].”
He said diplomats, foreign business chambers and media based in the city were stakeholders in its prosperous and stable future. “We count on you to respect the facts, view the NPC’s decision in a calm and objective manner,” Xie said.
“Understand, respect and support all of China’s legitimate efforts to safeguard national security in Hong Kong, and avoid any misinterpretation and misjudgment. Don’t do anything silly that would … undermine your own interests. Stand with the majority of Hong Kong citizens and stay away from separatists and terrorists,” the commissioner said.
Xie claimed most residents supported the law. “I haven’t heard about many people here opposing the legislation,” he said.
During the question and answer session, Carmen Cano de Lasala, head of the European Union office to Hong Kong and Macau, said she was concerned about how the legislation would be enacted.
“It seems that it excludes democratic debate in the Hong Kong institutions. Will the Hong Kong government be involved in the drafting of the legislation?” she said.
Cano also expressed concern about possible enforcement of the law by mainland agents in Hong Kong.
Xie said the NPC Standing Committee would consult the Hong Kong government and the Basic Law Committee, which advised the nation’s top legislators, during the process.
Masakazu Yagyu, secretary general of the Hong Kong Japanese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said he hoped the Chinese government would precisely explain the law. “We need more clarity,” he said.
Thousands of people took to the streets on Sunday to protest the law, even as Han Zheng, the state leader in charge of the city’s affairs, sought to ease fears about its impact on local freedoms but remained stern about its implementation.
On Sunday, White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said the US government would likely impose sanctions on China if Beijing implemented its proposal.
“It’s hard to see how Hong Kong could remain the Asian financial centre that it’s become if China takes over,” O’Brien told NBC’s Meet the Press. He said financial services initially were attracted to Hong Kong because of its rule of law that protected free enterprise and a capitalist system.
“If all those things go away, I’m not sure how the financial community can stay there … They’re not going to stay in Hong Kong to be dominated by the People’s Republic of China, the Communist Party.”
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tokyo was watching the situation in Hong Kong “with strong concern”.
He said a free and open system ought to be maintained in Hong Kong under the one country, two systems framework, adding the city should be allowed to thrive in “a democratic and stable manner”.
“We are closely following developments regarding deliberations on the bill and protests in Hong Kong with strong concern,” Suga said. “We hope that the Chinese side will address this issue in a sensible way.”
Potentially, a government is the most dangerous threat to man's rights: it holds a legal monopoly on the use of physical force against legally disarmed victims.