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Build national security systems   Ensure prosperity and stability of Hong Kong

12 July 2020

The enactment of the National Security Law (NSL) – a successful move to build a solid barrier for national security in the legal system – is an important milestone in our efforts to safeguard national security.

Enforcement mechanisms for safeguarding national security taking shape

In just two weeks after the introduction of the NSL, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government has already taken prompt action on several important areas of work, including the establishment of the Committee for Safeguarding National Security (NSC) chaired by the Chief Executive, the creation of the National Security Department (NSD) of the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) to fulfil the HKSAR Government's responsibility in law enforcement and implementation of the NSL, as well as the setting up of a dedicated unit in the Department of Justice to handle prosecutions relating to national security, viz. to institute proceedings for offences endangering national security and deal with other related legal matters. Besides, the Chief Executive has, after consulting the NSC and the Chief Justice of the Court of Final Appeal, appointed six serving magistrates as designated judges to handle cases relating to national security.

Last Monday, the NSC convened its first meeting attended by all members including me. Mr LUO Huining, Director of the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government (CPG) in the HKSAR and National Security Adviser appointed by the CPG, also sat in on the meeting. By virtue of the power vested under the NSL, the Chief Executive, in conjunction with the NSC, made Implementation Rules for law enforcement agencies, including the NSD on which necessary powers are conferred for the effective discharge of its work of national security protection. The Implementation Rules not only apply for the purpose of preventing, suppressing and imposing punishment for any acts and activities endangering national security, but also fulfil the requirement under the General Principles of the NSL to respect and protect human rights.

On the other hand, the inauguration of the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the CPG in the HKSAR (NSO) took place last Wednesday. I attended the plaque unveiling ceremony to witness this iconic moment in history.

With the implementation of the NSL, the establishment of the NSC and relevant enforcement mechanisms by the HKSAR Government as well as the official inauguration of the NSO, the country's major arrangements on safeguarding national security in the HKSAR are all in place. Together, the NSL, the NSC and the NSO form a strong safety net for Hong Kong and we will no longer be "defenceless" in terms of national security.

I strongly believe that the protection offered by the NSL would plug the loophole in national security in Hong Kong. Pivotal to the restoration of order and social stability, the NSL would also act as a strong foundation for the successful implementation of "One Country, Two Systems".

Stepping up explanatory work on the NSL

Last week, the Secretary for Justice, the Secretary for Security and I met various consuls-general and the leaders of foreign chambers of commerce in Hong Kong to explain the details and importance of the NSL in an effort to dispel any misconception or misunderstanding they might have.

For international investors, the investment environment and sentiment in Hong Kong are most vulnerable to social unrest and the erosion of the rule of law. The implementation of the NSL will restore social and political stability in Hong Kong in a short time, thereby helping us maintain our status as an international financial and commercial centre, open up greater development opportunities and speed up our economic recovery.

The NSL will not bring any change to our monetary and financial systems, let alone "capital flight" as rumoured in the community. In fact, Hong Kong's financial market continues to operate in a smooth and orderly manner with sustained inflow of funds. The rumour of "capital flight" does not hold water.

Enhancing publicity and education on the NSL

To support the implementation of the NSL, publicity and school education are of paramount importance. Schools bear the basic responsibility of helping students gain a correct perception of their country and the relationship between the motherland and Hong Kong, strengthening their sense of national identity and enabling them to understand the rule of law and other related issues. In early July, the Education Bureau issued a circular requiring all schools to timely enable all levels of school personnel and students to acquire an understanding of the NSL and remind them to strictly abide by this important piece of legislation.

All stakeholders including the school management, teachers, school social workers, student counsellors and parents should collaborate to enhance students' understanding of national development, Chinese culture as well as the Constitution and the Basic Law. Students should be helped to become law-abiding citizens through understanding the importance of national security and the NSL's legislative background and significance from a rational and positive perspective.

Civil servants to uphold the Basic Law and be loyal to the HKSAR and its Government

It has consistently been the duty of civil servants to uphold the Basic Law and be loyal to the HKSAR and its Government under the framework of the Basic Law and the Civil Service Code. Introducing a requirement of oath-taking or signing of declaration for civil servants can genuinely manifest their long-standing responsibilities under the framework, and enable them to have a clearer awareness of the responsibilities and requirements entailed by their official positions, thereby further safeguarding and promoting the core values that must be upheld by civil servants, and ensuring the effective governance of the HKSAR Government.

Based on the above principles, the Government has put forward a proposal requiring new appointees joining the civil service from 1 July 2020 onwards to confirm in writing to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the HKSAR. The Government has also proposed arrangements for oath-taking/signing of declaration by serving civil servants. The Civil Service Bureau will consult civil service unions on the proposal concerning serving civil servants, and continue to examine the related legal issues with the Department of Justice, so as to work out the implementation plan and details.

Article 6 of the NSL provides that "a resident of the HKSAR who stands for election or assumes public office shall confirm in writing or take an oath to uphold the Basic Law of the HKSAR of the People's Republic of China and swear allegiance to the HKSAR of the People's Republic of China in accordance with the law." The proposal on oath-taking by civil servants is compatible with the Article.

The NSL is the turning point for Hong Kong to find a way out of the impasse and restore order from chaos. I believe that our colleagues do understand this. All civil servants should cooperate with the HKSAR Government in discharging its duty to safeguard national security and strongly support the Chief Executive's and the HKSAR Government's administration.

Making prompt responses and staying alert to the drastic changes in the epidemic situation

Over the past week, the epidemic situation in Hong Kong has taken a rapid turn for the worse. An outbreak in a residential care home for the elderly was reported for the first time, in addition to clusters of cases involving taxi drivers and restaurants and cases with unknown source. More new confirmed local cases may continue to emerge.

The Government's response is guided by three key principles: Responding Promptly, Staying Alert to the Situation and Adopting a "Suppress and Lift" Strategy. With fluctuations in the epidemic situation and the increasing number of local cases, there is a need for the Government to tighten the prevention and control measures in a timely manner and consider implementing measures with different degrees of strictness in accordance with the severity of the situation. The actual anti-epidemic measures implemented must also be adjusted with regard to the prevailing situation and what it warrants.

Meanwhile, under the framework of joint prevention and control, the governments of the HKSAR, Guangdong and Macao are considering the resumption of travel between Guangdong and Hong Kong and between Hong Kong and Macao in a gradual and orderly manner after the epidemic situation has stabilised. Regarding mutual recognition of virus test results, the three governments intend to mutually recognise the results of COVID-19 tests conducted by designated testing facilities which meet the required standard. Mutual recognition will be effected through the "Health Code" systems of the three places. In this connection, the development of a "Hong Kong Health Code" system is part of the preparatory work of the HKSAR Government. We will announce the details of the arrangement and its implementation in due course upon completion of the discussion with the governments of Guangdong and Macao. In view of the worsening epidemic situation in which many local cases with unknown source have recently occurred within a short space of time, the three governments will review the timing for the launch of the "Health Code" pilot scheme. For the time being, the most important task of the HKSAR Government is to make an all-out effort to reduce the spread of the epidemic in the local community.

The occurrence of many local cases with unknown source in Hong Kong within a short period of time has sounded an alarm. Members of the public are reminded to stay vigilant and support the Government's anti-epidemic measures by maintaining personal and environmental hygiene at all times, reducing social contacts and refraining from gathering for eating and other group activities. If symptoms develop, they should get medical attention without delay.