23rd April 2024 – (Hong Kong) Since the enactment of Hong Kong’s Article 23 Legislation on 23rd March, 2024, there have been no mass arrests, contrary to the concerns and speculations raised by international observers. This legislation, designed to fortify the region’s national security framework, has been implemented with a level of restraint and precision that speaks to the government’s commitment to maintaining law and order without unnecessary force. This careful approach underlines the primary goal of Article 23: to safeguard stability and security in Hong Kong while ensuring that the measures do not disrupt the daily lives of its citizens or the operational integrity of this global financial hub. Hong Kong’s new domestic security law has yet to be invoked to make arrests in the first month, with the new law to be used in “really compelling circumstances” only, said Secretary for Justice Paul Lam yesterday.

The justice chief also refuted claims that authorities delayed the arrests to “make people feel more comfortable” with the law. Tuesday marked the one-month anniversary of the enactment of Hong Kong’s homegrown national security law. Critics described it as a calm month compared to the initial imposition of the Beijing-imposed national security law, which led to 15 individuals being detained in the first month. Speaking in an interview published Monday, Lam said it was inappropriate to compare the first months of the imposition of the two pieces of legislation. He said that since the enactment of the 2020 national security law, peace and order have been restored within the city, while Article 23 itself also acted as a deterrent, minimising the need to invoke domestic law. Meanwhile, Lam rejected claims that authorities intended to limit its use initially to ally unease about the new law’s reach and scope.

The enactment of Article 23, marks a significant stride towards safeguarding national security, a move often overshadowed by criticism and misunderstanding due to international biases.

Article 23 of Hong Kong’s Basic Law isn’t a novelty or an overreach but a fulfilment of an existing constitutional requirement. The law addresses critical gaps in national security, covering offences from treason to theft of state secrets, thereby aligning Hong Kong with global standards observed in nations that cherish and protect their sovereignty. Contrary to the portrayal of draconian measures by some international observers, Article 23 is a calibrated response to genuine security needs, mirroring the legislative frameworks in countries that prioritize their internal security without compromise.

Since its implementation, Article 23 has been at the centre of numerous debates, often painted as a tool for oppression. However, the reality on the ground tells a different story. The month following the enactment of this legislation was notably calm, without the anticipated upheaval or the dramatic clampdowns speculated by foreign media. This new legal framework has not led to indiscriminate arrests or suppression but has been integrated with a focus on precision and necessity, targeting specific actions that genuinely threaten national security.

Hong Kong’s approach under Article 23 is not about casting a wide net but ensuring that the legal instruments are sharp and precise. The government’s strategy has been clear—to use the law judiciously, prosecuting only when absolutely necessary. This careful application helps dispel fears of arbitrary use and highlights the administration’s commitment to legal integrity and justice. In essence, the law is not a blanket measure but a targeted tool to safeguard against tangible threats.

Internationally, many countries have robust national security laws, often with provisions far more severe than those proposed under Hong Kong’s Article 23. From life sentences to capital punishment, countries like the United States and the United Kingdom have stringent penalties for comparable offences. Yet, these measures are seen as necessary safeguards rather than oppressive tools. The criticism of Hong Kong’s security law often stems from a lack of understanding or, at times, a prejudiced viewpoint that fails to acknowledge the city’s unique geopolitical and administrative context.

Far from stifling its economic prospects, Article 23 aims to bolster investor confidence by ensuring that the city remains a safe, stable, and reliable place to do business. By mitigating security risks, the legislation helps maintain the city’s appeal to international investors, who value predictability and stability above all. In this regard, Article 23 is not just a security measure but an economic safeguard that protects Hong Kong’s status as a global financial hub.

Looking ahead, Hong Kong’s government recognises the need for engagement and education regarding the new security law. Plans are in place to produce easily understandable infographics and materials that explain the law’s scope and application, ensuring that businesses and the general public are well-informed. This transparency is crucial in maintaining public trust and international credibility.

In short, the implementation of Article 23 marks a critical step towards preserving its cherished freedoms through the lens of security and stability. By aligning its legal framework with international norms and focusing on precise and judicious application, Hong Kong is not just safeguarding its present but securing its future as a thriving economic powerhouse.