Special Report – Hong Kong: Unwanted problem

The political and social situation in Hong Kong influenced Ho Iat Seng’s first year in office.   

MB December 2020 Special Report | Ho Iat Seng – Year 1

With the pandemic crisis management at hand, another external factor surfaced in the middle of the year. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee passed a National Security Law for Hong Kong that made headlines around the world.  

Macau adopted on its own a National Security Act back in 2009, fulfilling what is spelled out in Article 23 of the Basic Law. Over the last couple of years, local top officials have been stressing the need to move on with supplementary regulations to the existing National Security Law.  

Right after the implementation of the new law in Hong Kong, the same idea was stressed by the Director-General at the Department of Policy Research at the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the Macau SAR, Ran Bo. “So far the mechanism has worked well, but of course with the rapid development in the international situation and since we’re living in turbulent times, Macau will need to strengthen its safeguard mechanisms”, Mr. Ran said in an interview with TDM TV.  

Other statements of support followed. The former Chief Executive and Vice Chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, Edmund Ho, argued that it is necessary to improve the legislation on the matter, which was passed in 2009 without great controversies and never used to accuse anyone. 

Shortly after, Secretary for Administration and Justice André Cheong said that the Executive would accelerate the works on complementary legislation to the city’s National Security Law while stressing that it would be up to the Central Government as to whether to set up an office for safeguarding national security in Macau, that is, one similar to the one established in Hong Kong. 

It was at that moment that Ho Iat Seng decided to intervene: last August, the Chief Executive came to say that Macau can improve national security law without emulating that of Hong Kong. “Is there any room for improvement? Yes. This has already been mentioned by Secretary [for Security] Wong [Sio Chak]. But we are not going to do it because Hong Kong now has the security law,” stressed Ho Iat Seng. 

So far no specific additional legislation or timeline has been provided in addition to the measures already implemented by the local authorities such as the establishment of a National Security Department within the Judiciary Police and the Commission on the Defence of National Security. 

Meanwhile, the Hong Kong factor seems to be looming over some cases that prompted controversy.  In early June, a tour bus with some 40 people circulated and stopped at one location carrying banners in support of the then newly announced National Security Law for Hong Kong, despite the COVID-19-pandemic-related restrictions on assemblies and demonstrations invoked by the police when banning the June 4 street events. Police then moved on with an investigation on the tour bus case for allegedly violating the demonstration and assembly law. It was also reported in July that a book by Joshua Wong has been removed from the shelves of a local public library for analysis. More recently, the premature closing of the World Press Photo exhibition was alleged to be related to some photos on display depicting last year’s mass protests in Hong Kong, something that was not officially confirmed. 

Iong, Meng U 

“Local national security law is much more moderate” 

“National Security has been on the priority of Beijing since Xi took over power. However, in the eyes of Beijing, the circumstances were very different in Hong Kong and Macau. In the case of Macau, it is very difficult to find any cases, which can relate to the so-called ‘national security’ even though Macau had already passed the Article 23 legislation in 2009. It is the reason why Macau frequently received praise from top Party leaders since 2014. And if we compare the law articles, the ‘Macau version’ national security law is much more moderate than the “Hong Kong version”. So I don’t see much direct or indirect local impact regard to the situation in Hong Kong as the two cities are very different, even Hoi at Seng himself said Macau did not need to copy the mode in Hong Kong.” 

Sonny Lo 

“No substantial impact in Macau”

“I do not see any substantial impact of National Security Law in HKSAR on Macau, although there were talks about how to make Macau national security aligned with HKSAR. Since Macau is secure to Beijing’s national security, any adjustment in Macau’s national security mechanism is of minor importance politically speaking. (…) The HK approach to Covid-19 is marked by incrementalism, gradualism, but without decisive and tough measures, unlike Macau. As such, the two places’ situation reflects different ways of governance.” 

José Álvarez 

“Ho Iat Seng understood perfectly the longstanding underlying problem” 

“The trade war was already unnoticeably affecting business, but the protest was a whole new dent – there is now a correlation between them, especially on the heights the latter got to. Changes to the ‘Security Law’ are pre-emptive action to avoid at all costs anything similar to Hong Kong happening herein. Both SARs are very much connected and thus Macau will pull all stops to curb any spilling over of the issues to the region – just take the fact that one never sees foreign politicians setting foot in Macau, like they often do in Hong Kong. Moreover, Ho Iat Seng understood perfectly the longstanding underlying problem that gave rise to the protest in Hong Kong and so is working on a second front of pampering the local population with an undeclared ‘residents first policy’ (namely in what concerns employment).” 

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