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China tells Hong Kong to hold national security ‘tightly’ for development

Xia Baolong of Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office says new national security law poses no threat to investors

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Monday 15 April 2024 12:24 BST
Related: At least 53 people arrested for violating Hong Kong’s national security law

Hong Kong should hold on "tightly" to national security to safeguard development, China's top man on the autonomous city’s affairs said, just weeks after the financial hub enacted draconian domestic security laws.

Hong Kong last month enacted Article 23, a new national security law that criminalises treason, sabotage, sedition, theft of state secrets and espionage with jail terms of up to life imprisonment.

Critics of the law fear that city authorities could weaponise the legislation to stub out the remaining traces of dissent, which has been routinely targeted using a similar national security law imposed by China.

"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," Xia Baolong, the director of Beijing's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said.

Mr Xia emphasised that the law posed no threat to investors amid severe Western criticism of a protracted crackdown on dissent.

"For the general public of Hong Kong and foreign investors, this law is the protector of their rights, freedoms, property and investment," he said while addressing a programme marking the annual national security day.

"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."

Foreign governments, including the US and the UK, have criticised the new law as a fresh tool for authorities to clamp down on dissent.

The US consulate general in Hong Kong has asked visitors to "exercise increased caution" after the State Department updated its travel advisory to say the city administration was expected to "further restrict civil liberties".

Canada, in a similar advisory, warned its citizens to "exercise a high degree of caution in Hong Kong due to the risk of arbitrary enforcement of local laws".

The advisories were condemned by the Commissioner's Office of China which said the travel alerts were "maliciously" tarnishing Hong Kong's international reputation.

"The law only targets a tiny minority who endanger national security, and ordinary foreign individuals and institutions do not need to worry," a spokesperson said, according to Global Times.

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

Radio Free Asia, which is funded by the US, shuttered its Hong Kong bureau last month amid escalating concerns over press freedom and safety. "Actions by Hong Kong authorities, including referring to RFA as a ‘foreign force’, raise serious questions about our ability to operate in safety with the enactment of Article 23,” the outlet’s president Bay Fang said.

Celebrated independent bookstore Mount Zero, considered a safe space for liberal thinkers, closed its doors citing multiple inspections by authorities following anonymous complaints.

More than 290 people have been arrested under the national security law so far. Of these, 174 people have been charged, including prominent China critic and businessman Jimmy Lai.

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