Members Area Logout

Vague or clear? Legal experts and politicians debate the red lines of Beijing’s National Security Law three years after its enactment

As Hong Kong enters its third year under the Beijing-imposed National Security Law (NSL), a panel of legal experts and politicians gathered at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) to discuss its effect on the city. 

Sitting on the panel were John Burns, Honorary Professor of Politics and Public Administration at The University of Hong Kong (HKU); Albert Chen, Chair of Constitutional Law at HKU; former Legislative Council member Emily Lau; and Senior Counsel/Executive Council member Ronny Tong. The talk was moderated by FCC President Lee Williamson. 

“When it comes to Hong Kong, the sky falls down,” said Tong when pointing out the support behind other countries’ national security efforts and the criticism Hong Kong’s NSL receives from the international community. 

Ronny Tong and Lee Williamson. Photo: FCC

Burns agreed that all states must ensure national security, however he emphasised that interpretation was key in how national security laws are enforced. He believes that the local government has been using the NSL to intimidate the public and encourage self-censorship, ultimately changing political behavior in the city despite how vague he finds the NSL to be. 

John Burns. Photo: FCC

Chen, on the other hand, described NSL offenses as “narrowly-defined” and added that most of the ongoing cases dealt with sedition, not the NSL. He explained that sedition falls under the Crimes Ordinance, which has been a part of Hong Kong’s legal system since the city’s days as a British colony. 

“Political offenses are not subject to extradition,” Chen said when asked about the eight self-exiled activists who are wanted by Hong Kong’s national security police. 

Albert Chen. Photo: FCC

He added that returning the wanted activists to Hong Kong would only work if the countries they fled to had extradition agreements with the city, but that many countries had abolished their agreements due to the NSL. 

For Lau, the strongest critic on the panel, her biggest concern with the NSL is Article 29, which prohibits “provoking hatred” among Hong Kong residents towards the local and central governments. She argued that criticising the government does not equate to provoking hatred but that Article 29 implies as such. To her, this results in the criminalisation of free speech in Hong Kong. 

Lau also criticised the continued detention of the 47 Democrats who have now spent over 90 days in court. 

Emily Lau. Photo: FCC

“This is a question of humane treatment,” Lau said, citing this case as one of the “shockwaves” felt across Hong Kong since the NSL’s enactment along with the various news organisations and NGOs that have either disbanded or left the city. 

“I have strong faith in One Country, Two Systems, and the judiciary,” Tong repeated several times during the discussion. “As a lawyer myself, I know many of the judges and I don’t believe any of them are corrupt. If you think they are corrupt, please tell me.” 

The four panelists were also asked about their thoughts on Article 23, the potential ban of the 2019 protest anthem “Glory to Hong Kong,” and “soft resistance.” 

Watch the full discussion on our YouTube channel:

Making Sense of China’s Economy with Dr. Tao Wang

“Some questions never change.” 

Dr. Tao Wang came to this conclusion after decades of covering China’s economy and her past 15 years of working at UBS Investment Research. Questions about China’s sustainability for economic growth, state and market relationships, and structural issues are what inspired her to write her new book Making Sense of China’s Economy, which was published earlier this year. 

Dr. Wang spoke about her book at The Foreign Correspondents’ Club (FCC) alongside Andrew Chan, a member of the FCC’s Professional Committee who has worked in risk management. 

Dr. Tao Wang. Photo: FCC

Her first point: there is no simple narrative regarding China’s economy. The “doom predictions” that Dr. Wang would often hear hadn’t materialized yet, reinforcing her advice to not extrapolate when monitoring the mainland’s economic development. 

Dr. Wang also used her talk to address some of the common misconceptions, one of which is that the Chinese government is a monolithic entity, as well as the concerns about the rising role of the state versus the market. Through graphs and charts, she showed the drop in state ownership in the economy across various sectors between the 1980s until mid 2000s, which has stopped over the past one and half decade. While the state increased its role in social areas (though China still lags OECD countries in social spending) and regulations in recent years, she believes that the lack of progress in SOE reforms contributed to the perception of an ever-larger role of the state. 

“I’m not as pessimistic,” she said when addressing the decline of China’s working population and long-term potential growth. 

Acknowledging the challenges of decline in the working-age population, she pointed out that there is still surplus labor to be transferred out of farming, and that China’s actual retirement age of 54 is very young when compared to China’s average life expectancy (78 years). A gradual and modest extension of retirement age can help increase labor supply this decade.  

Along with the declining work population, Dr. Wang mentioned other challenges to China’s economy: social inequality between urban and rural citizens, rising debt, access to technology, and geoeconomic issues. She believes that while problems in accessing advanced technology will be negative for China, the country still has plenty of room to catch up and move up the technology ladder by applying existing mature technologies. 

Dr. Wang noted that economic reforms and “opening up” to the rest of the world were key behind China’s economic success. One thing the government did right was being pragmatic and adaptive to different challenges, she highlighted.  

Dr. Tao Wang and Andrew Chan. Photo: FCC

But will China continue to be pragmatic and adaptive? Dr. Wang said that is perhaps the biggest question. The answer is not clear, however she is “cautiously optimistic.” 

Making Sense of China’s Economy is now available on Amazon.

Watch the full discussion on our YouTube channel:

Statement on Results of FCC’s Press Freedom Survey

An anonymous survey of the FCC’s Correspondent and Journalist members reveals that many are finding the working conditions in Hong Kong to be increasingly difficult.

This finding, if taken as a true indication of the sentiment amongst other members, is an alarming reflection of the current state of press freedom in the city.

Of 66 respondents who replied, 55 persons (83 percent) said the environment for journalists had changed for the worse in the last 18 months. Whilst only 22.5 percent of the 294 eligible Correspondent and Journalist members chose to complete the survey, the FCC nevertheless regards these findings as significant.

It was found that of 52 respondents who indicated that speaking to sources is part of their job, 46 persons (88 percent) said they found sources in Hong Kong had become less willing to be quoted or to discuss sensitive subjects in the last 18 months, a telling indication of fear levels in the community.

Four respondents to the survey said that they had experienced digital surveillance while reporting in Hong Kong in the last 18 months. One person said they had experienced physical surveillance, and four more people said that they had experienced both digital and physical surveillance. These respondents chose not to provide further details in the survey.

Respondents also reported taking a more cautious approach to content. Sixty-five percent of respondents (43 persons) said that they had practiced self-censorship in the last 18 months, either in the content of their reporting or by avoiding certain subjects. Twenty-seven percent of those (12 persons) said they had self-censored “considerably”.

That is a notable increase from October 2021, when the FCC’s last press freedom survey (in which there were 99 respondents) found that 56 percent of those respondents had self-censored, including 16 percent of them to a considerable degree.

The FCC supports journalists’ fundamental right to conduct their work freely and without fear of intimidation or harassment.

We will continue our proactive engagement with relevant authorities to safeguard press freedom in the city in order to make sure that Hong Kong remains a thriving hub for journalism and business in the region.

Read the full results of the survey, which was conducted in May, in the latest edition of the club’s magazine, The Correspondent.

We measure site performance with cookies to improve performance.