China says Hong Kong must ‘tightly hold’ national security line to safeguard development

By Thomson Reuters Apr 14, 2024 | 11:00 PM

By Jessie Pang and Joyce Zhou

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s top official on Hong Kong affairs said the city should “tightly hold” onto the bottom line of national security to safeguard development, in a speech coming weeks after the enactment of sweeping new security laws.

“To move towards governance and prosperity, we need to tightly hold onto the bottom line of national security in order to safeguard the high quality development of Hong Kong,” said the director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Xia Baolong, in a speech to mark an annual national security day.

Hong Kong in March enacted a new national security law, also known as article 23, that updates or introduces new laws to prohibit treason, sabotage, sedition, the theft of state secrets and espionage, with jail terms of up to life imprisonment.

Xia, however, sought to emphasise that the law posed no threat to investors, at a time when the city has faced Western criticism of a protracted crackdown on dissent, and has struggled economically and financially.

“For the general public of Hong Kong and foreign investors, this law is the protector of their rights, freedoms, property and investment,” Xia said.

“Investors from all over the world can come to Hong Kong to invest in new businesses bravely and without concerns,” he added. “Hong Kong remains the best place in the world to do business and make money and achieve your dreams.”

Some foreign governments including the United States and Britain, however, have criticised the new law as fresh tool for authorities to clamp down on dissent. The legislation adds to another national security law China directly imposed on Hong Kong in 2020 in response to mass pro-democracy protests.

Beijing, however, says the laws are necessary to safeguard the city’s stability and prosperity.

The U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong said on Saturday that visitors to the city should “exercise increased caution” with the State Department updating its travel advisory given the new national security legislation.

Canada also updated its advisory recently, saying people needed to “exercise a high degree of caution in Hong Kong due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws”.

The security laws have so far been used to jail scores of leading Hong Kong democrats including Joshua Wong, while liberal media outlets and civil society groups have been shut down.

More than 290 people have been arrested under the Beijing imposed national security law so far. Of these, 174 people and five companies have been charged, including prominent China critic and businessman Jimmy Lai — who is currently on trial and could face life imprisonment.

(Reporting by Jessie Pang, James Pomfret and Joyce Zhou; Writing by James Pomfret; Editing by Michael Perry)