Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam reiterated her support for the Chinese regime’s national security law after meeting with top Chinese Communist Party officials on June 3, amid growing criticism of Beijing’s tightening grip on the Chinese-ruled city.
China’s rubber-stamp legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), adopted a draft resolution on May 28, drawing global rebuke at Beijing for failing to uphold its promise to preserve Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms upon its transfer of sovereignty from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
In the coming months, the NPC’s standing committee will be drafting details of the security law, after which it will be added to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, without any local legislative scrutiny.
Lam led a group of her administration’s top officials to the capital Beijing including Secretary of Justice Teresa Cheng and Secretary of Security John Lee. According to Hong Kong media, they met with Han Zheng, Chinese vice premier and the regime’s top official overseeing Hong Kong affairs; Zhao Kezhi, China’s Minister of Public Security; and Xia Baolong, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Beijing’s highest agency for managing Hong Kong affairs.
The meeting took place at Zhongnanhai, the headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in Beijing.
The two sides held discussions on the national security law for about three hours on Wednesday afternoon. Lam then held a press conference in Beijing, but she declined to provide full details about what was discussed.
“Vice Prime Minister Han Zheng said that the central government is determined to carry out the legislative work this time,” Lam said. She went on to blame “advocacy of independence” and “violence verging on terrorist activities” in Hong Kong as the reason behind China’s determination to push forward the law.
According to Lam, Han stressed that the law would only target “a small minority of people” who commit acts that “endanger national security.” She did not elaborate on what these acts might be.
Pro-democracy activists have expressed fears that the law would enable Beijing to crack down on dissent. Last year, mass protests erupted in June to protest against the now fully-scrapped extradition bill. Since then, the movement has evolved into demands for greater democracy in the city, including universal suffrage. Many are worried the law would target protesters.
Following the CCP’s adoption of the security law, U.S. President Donald Trump announced on May 29 that it will reassess ties with Hong Kong and revoke the city’s preferential trade treatment under U.S. law.
Lam also said at the presser that Beijing would be inviting representatives from “various sectors” in Hong Kong to get their views on the law, according to local media.
She added that Andrew Leung, president of Hong Kong’s legislature, known as the Legislative Council (LegCo), would be consulted.
When asked by a reporter if she told Chinese officials there was local and international opposition to the security law, Lam did not answer the question directly, but said that Beijing knows about views in Hong Kong and elsewhere “in this information age.”
Meanwhile, Tam Yiu-chung, Hong Kong’s sole representative to the 174-seat NPC standing committee, suggested in a recent opinion article published in the local pro-Beijing magazine Bauhinia, that people cannot run for a seat in LegCo if they oppose the national security law.
The LegCo elections are scheduled for Sept. 6, when all 70 seats are up for a vote. 35 seats are directly voted in by constituents in geographical areas, while the other 35 are elected by special interest groups.
Tam wrote that “people who want to take part in serving the city, either as lawmakers or candidates, should not oppose the national security legislation…Those who oppose it will be in violation of the [Hong Kong’s mini constitution] Basic Law, and they should be disqualified.”
Local pro-democracy lawmakers were outraged by Tam’s remarks.
Lam Cheuk-ting, a Democratic Party lawmaker, speaking on the sidelines of a LegCo session on June 3, said that Tam’s remarks “brazenly violated” a local law, which penalizes anyone who seeks to compel a LegCo member to declare himself in favor of a certain matter.
Lam also questioned whether Tam was seeking to have all pro-democracy candidates disqualified for the next LegCo elections.
The elections are considered another referendum on the pro-Beijing Hong Kong government headed by Lam, after pro-democracy candidates scored a landslide victory in the city’s district council elections in November last year.
Experts have speculated that Lam may cancel or postpone the elections, fearing another loss for the pro-Beijing camp, which would be an embarrassment for Beijing; it would mean a vote of no-confidence against Beijing’s policies toward Hong Kong.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking to the American Enterprise Institute on May 29, said that if Lam decided not to hold the legislative elections, it would mean the “final nail in the coffin” for the city’s freedoms.
The pro-democracy camp is hoping that they can secure at least half of the LegCo’s 70 seats.
Three lawmakers of the pro-democracy Civic Party also criticized Tam’s remarks on June 3. Alvin Yeung said that Tam was trying to scare current lawmakers and Hongkongers and silence any opposition to the national security law.
Kwok Ka-ki demanded that the Hong Kong government issue a response to Tam’s statement; otherwise, it would mean that the NPC standing committee has the power to manage Hong Kong affairs.
Reuters contributed to this report.