HONG KONG, CHINA - JULY 01: Riot police officers charge up escalators and shoot pepperball projectiles at a shopping mall during a anti-national security law demonstration on July 1, 2020 in Hong Kong, China. Hong Kong marks the 23rd anniversary of its handover to China on July 1 after Beijing imposed the new national security law. (Photo by Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
Hong Kong's national security law explained
03:20 - Source: CNN
Hong Kong CNN  — 

Hong Kong on Tuesday formally began the process of enacting a controversial homegrown national security law in a move that could have deep ramifications for the city’s status as a global financial hub.

The proposed legislation will cover offenses including treason, theft of state secrets, espionage and external interference, in what Hong Kong officials say will “fill loopholes” in a sweeping national security law imposed on the city by China’s central government in 2020 following mass pro-democracy protests.

Known as Article 23, Hong Kong’s own security legislation was shelved in 2003 after a previous attempt to enact it drew half a million residents onto the streets in protest over fears it would erode civil liberties.

But no such public opposition is expected this time around.

Beijing’s national security crackdown of recent years has transformed once-freewheeling Hong Kong, silencing almost all dissent and jailing dozens of political opponents. Many civil society groups have disbanded, and outspoken media outlets have shut down.

Hong Kong and Chinese authorities say the Beijing-imposed security law, which criminalizes succession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces in vague and broad terms, has restored order to the city following the 2019 protests and deny it has curtailed freedoms.

And on Tuesday, Hong Kong’s leader said it’s now time to enact the city’s own additional security laws “as soon as possible.”

“Why now? We can’t wait. We can’t afford to wait,” Chief Executive John Lee said in announcing a public consultation for Article 23, calling its enactment the city’s “constitutional duty.”

“It’s for 26 years we’ve been waiting; we shouldn’t wait any longer,” he said, referring to the period since the former British colony was handed over to Chinese rule in 1997.

Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution agreed by the two powers, the city is required to enact laws to prohibit acts that endanger national security.

“While we society as a whole looks calm and looks very safe, we still have to watch out for potential sabotage, undercurrents that try to create troubles,” Lee said.

The consultation began Tuesday and will end on February 28, shorter than the three months allocated for public feedback when the government last attempted to introduce the law more than two decades ago.

Lee cited rising geopolitical tensions as a factor in the urgency, highlighting the threat from “some Western countries” targeting China’s secure development.

“Foreign intelligence organizations, including the CIA and British intelligence agencies, have publicly stated that they will do a lot of work to target China and Hong Kong,” he said. “Foreign agents and Hong Kong independence ideas are still lurking in Hong Kong society.”