By Chris Yeung –
Three points from the Chinese central government’s first official response to the establishment of the Hong Kong National Party, the city’s first political party that advocates independence. In an interview with the official Xinhua news agency on Wednesday, a spokesman of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office made it clear, again, Beijing’s opposition against the advocacy. It was followed by another salvo by Liaison Office Director Zhang Xiaoming in an interview with the Phoenix TV on Thursday.
- Independence? Don’t even talk about it
Although Beijing leaders have moderated their rhetoric on Hong Kong during the “two sessions”, NPC and CPPCC plenums, in Beijing last month, they are quick to eliminate any illusion that there is room for leniency when it comes to the issue of independence in any form.
Without naming the party, the HKMAO spokesman said the the establishment of a pro-independence party by an extremely small group of people in Hong Kong has harmed the country’s sovereignty and security.
“(It) has endangered the prosperity and stability and harmed the interests of Hong Kong… It is also a serious violation of the Basic Law and the relevant existing laws,”
He said they believe the Hong Kong government would handle the matter in accordance with the law. Saying they are aware that the government has already rejected the party’s registration, he said the government action is “appropriate.”
Some lawyers and pan-democrats have argued simply expressing views, but not taking action, about independence may not constitute a criminal offence. Beijing seems to disagree. To Beijing, advocacy for independence does not fall within the remit of freedom of expression. It constitutes an act of sedition, which is not allowed under Article 23 in the Basic Law.
- HK government feels the heat
By saying they believe the Hong Kong government would handle the matter in accordance with the law, Beijing has sent a not-so-subtle message to the administration for it not to exercise discretion and grant leniency in dealing with any pro-independence groups. For instance, the government will be under pressure to act in accordance with the law if the party, without formal registration under companies or societies ordinances, organises any activities. Taking the cue from the central government, the Justice Department issued a statement saying they would watch closely and take appropriate action when necessary. While stating clear its position on advocacy for independence, the central government has indicated the Hong Kong government holds responsibility for handling the matter.
- Fresh talk on Article 23, but just that
Almost without exception, the issue of resumption of legislation on Basic Law Article 23 is raised every time the advocacy of Hong Kong independence hit headlines. The latest venture by the Hong Kong National Party in crossing the red line by hoisting the flag of independence has raised speculation that Beijing may have no choice but to ask the Hong Kong government to put the issue back on the agenda.
If there are no indications of that so far, it is because it is a bad time for Beijing to do so. With the next Legislative Council election just about five months to go, dusting off the shelved national security bill will be a godsend for the pan-democrats – and a nightmare for the pro-establishment camp. Technically and practically, there is also no room for a bill in the agenda of the Legislative Council. The earliest time for a resumption of Article 23 legislation will be next year after the next chief executive is sworn in.
Chris Yeung is founder and editor of the Voice of Hong Kong website. He is a veteran journalist formerly worked with the South China Morning Post and the Hong Kong Economic Journal. He writes on Greater China issues.
Photo: Picture taken from Hong Kong National Party Facebook
Let your voices heard: Is advocacy for Hong Kong independence an act of freedom of expression that should be allowed? Send your views to firstname.lastname@example.org.