“If the law is very precisely worded and very rarely applied this will be less cause for concern than if it is deemed imprecise in wording and regularly invoked,” German business chamber chief Johannes Hack told HKFP.
By Tom Grundy
January 31, 2024
The public consultation document of Hong Kong’s homegrown security law, Article 23, on January 30, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
It came after Chief Executive John Lee unveiled a four-week public consultation on the controversial legislation required under Article 23 of the city’s mini-constitution, which is separate to the 2020 Beijing-imposed security law.
During a press conference to announce the consultation period on Tuesday Lee said in Cantonese that a German business chamber representative had “said he did not intend to endanger national security, so he was not concerned about any national security laws.”
Chamber president Johannes Hack told HKFP by email on Thursday that Lee was likely referring to an interview he did with iCable last week, in which he said that the law was unlikely to impact member companies because they would always adhere to local laws.
However, he added that business leaders also need to interact with civil society. “There is a possibility that the introduction of Article 23 will strengthen our stakeholder’s perception that Hong Kong is aligning more closely with mainland China and this is something we would need to engage with,” Hack wrote.
“If the law is very precisely worded and very rarely applied this will be less cause for concern than if it is deemed imprecise in wording and regularly invoked.”
President of the German Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong, Johannes Hack. Photo: LinkedIn.
Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that the government shall enact laws on its own to prohibit acts of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against Beijing. Its legislation failed in 2003 following mass protests and it was not tabled again until after the onset of the separate, Beijing-imposed security law in 2020. Pro-democracy advocates fear it could have a negative effect on civil liberties.
In a joint statement released on Tuesday, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong, the Federation of Hong Kong Industries and the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce aired support for Article 23, saying it would provide a solid framework to protect national security and improve the overall business environment.
When asked if the German chamber supported Article 23, Hack did not answer directly.
He said that foreign business would abide by the laws of the jurisdiction they were in “with strict neutrality.”
He added: “[From] the ongoing discussions with our stakeholders, there is concern that specific provisions of Article 23 may be perceived as aligning Hong Kong’s own (economic, social) and (particularly) common law system more closely with mainland China at a time when we are engaged in pointing out the differences rather than the similarities.”
From left: Secretary for Justice Paul Lam, Chief Executive John Lee and Secretary for Security Chris Tang take a seat ahead of a press conference to announce the opening of the public consultation period for Hong Kong’s homegrown security law, Article 23, on January 30, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
The consultation document for the security legislation covers five types of offences: treason, insurrection, theft of state secrets and espionage, sabotage endangering national security, and external interference.
Most have been modelled on amendments of existing laws, such as expanding the definition of treason, while a series of new offences have been suggested to deal with acts linked to “serious civil disturbance within China” and “modern-day modes of espionage.”