No Article 23 needed

A not-bad column notes that the Hong Kong government ‘wants to shift understanding of free speech towards a more authoritarian definition’ and has the Legislative Council votes ‘to force through a draconian’ national security law.

Beijing officials and local Communist Party loyalists are openly saying that the government should introduce an Article 23 law against treason, sedition and other offenses, and they strongly suggest that this should criminalize even peaceful talk of independence and ‘self-determination’.

The Hong Kong government, mindful of the semi-uprising last time they tried to ram through a national security law in 2003, is resolutely devoted to dithering on this, bleating about ‘when the time is right’. It’s hard to believe local officials would publicly disobey Beijing’s requests, so we can assume the apparent tension between the two is a deliberate ‘good cop-bad cop’ act.

But it is probably something they have no choice about. To the CCP, accustomed to redefining laws to mean what it wants, Hong Kong’s legal system must be frustrating. And the local administration’s dithering is probably sincere – the poisonous Article 23 branding is guaranteed to provoke major protests.

So the authorities resort to chipping away bit-by-bit at ‘threats to national security’. It is gradual and inefficient by the standards of the Crush Everything Now approach used on the Mainland, but it causes less fuss.

And it’s hardly ineffective. Working within (and if necessary twisting or undermining) the existing legal and administrative systems, local officials have found ways to selectively prosecute protestors, use the police for political intimidation, bar dissidents from the legislature and ballot, and now ban a political group.

What’s next? Drooling, mad-eyed pro-CCP loyalists are now calling for the proscription of the HK National Party to be followed by a similar ban of the bigger and more moderate Demosisto. One measure that is just begging to then be taken is a requirement that all political parties and lawmakers declare support for CCP rule or cease to operate – the declaration to be rejected if a civil servant finds you are insincere. Another is the extended use of travel bans, as already imposed on Demostisto’s Joshua Wong.

As things get creepier, the authorities are likely to use surveillance far more (think ‘wanted’ posters of students spotted by CCTV erecting localist banners on campus at the dead of night). Public-sector workers like teachers and social workers might be required to sign loyalty oaths, with suspected bad elements blacklisted from employment. Maybe a ban on ‘humiliating’ media. More and more people will seriously shut up and keep their heads down.

It could be that Beijing, in its eagerness for a sweeping clampdown will push ahead with the all-embracing extra-tough national security legislation required by the Basic Law. If so, the opposition would welcome it as a rallying point for resistance. But if they are smart, the authorities will simply use Article 23 as a ‘looming threat’ to divert attention as the step-by-step Mainlandization grinds on.


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