Beijing’s top official to visit Hong Kong on Thursday for consultation on Article 23 Legislation

Xia Baolong

20th February 2024 – (Hong Kong) Xia Baolong, the head of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office (HKMAO), will embark on a six-day visit to Hong Kong starting this Thursday. This will be Xia’s second fact-finding mission to the city within a year, indicating Beijing’s heightened focus on gathering on-the-ground information to improve governance in the region.

During his visit, Xia intends to solicit views on proposed national security legislation based on Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. Multiple insiders have confirmed Xia’s visit, stating that he plans to gather feedback from a range of officials and residents on various issues, including the city’s economic recovery, government plans, and the upcoming budget blueprint.

The consultation on the legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law in Hong Kong is set to conclude on the 28th of February next week. The consultation process, which began on January 30th, has spanned a month, during which the government has organised numerous seminars and public forums to gather opinions and concerns from the public regarding the legislation of Article 23. The purpose of the consultation is to provide various sectors of society the opportunity to express their views on this matter. The government will carefully evaluate the collected opinions to formulate an appropriate legislative proposal. As the consultation nears its end, the Hong Kong government will review and discuss these opinions in the subsequent period, striving to achieve social consensus and advance the legislative work on Article 23 of the Basic Law.

The domestic national security legislation, which aims to complement the Beijing-imposed national security law, is a significant topic on the agenda. Xia is keen to assess the latest situation and address concerns within society. The government aims to pass this legislation before the end of the year.

Xia’s visit comes after the HKMAO underwent a revamp, making it directly answerable to the Communist Party’s Central Committee. The visit signifies Beijing’s commitment to better understand Hong Kong’s current situation and gather insights from various stakeholders.

Meetings are being planned between Xia and key figures in Hong Kong, including Chief Executive John Lee Ka-chiu, principal officials, members of the Executive Council, lawmakers, representatives from the business sector, and young people. Xia is keen on meeting people extensively to gain a comprehensive understanding of the city’s latest developments.

The exact itinerary for Xia’s visit will be confirmed in the coming days. It is expected to conclude on Tuesday, a day before Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po unveils the annual budget speech and the one-month consultation exercise on the proposed legislation ends. Xia’s visit holds particular significance as Hong Kong faces mounting pressure to address its economic challenges. The city’s gross domestic product growth is projected to slow down this year, prompting the need for a budget blueprint that cuts spending and expands revenue.

The proposed national security legislation aims to ban seven types of national security offences and expand the coverage of existing laws while introducing new ones. The legislation seeks to address treason, insurrection, theft of state secrets, sabotage, and external interference, among other offences.

The legislation based on Article 23 was previously attempted in 2003 but was shelved due to widespread protests. Proponents argue that enacting this legislation is crucial to safeguarding national security, while critics express concerns about potential repression and its impact on press freedom.

Xia’s previous visit in April last year was hailed as an inspection trip, indicating Beijing’s commitment to conducting in-depth research to improve governance. During that visit, Xia attended various events, including the opening ceremony for National Security Education Day, where he urged Hong Kong residents to remain vigilant and emphasized the importance of expressing opinions through means other than protests.