Day 3: we start carving ‘Article 23’ on Carrie’s gravestone

Big Lychee, Various Sectors

Today’s South China Morning Post gives readers a choice of views about what Hong Kong’s new administration should do regarding national security legislation, required under the infamous Article 23 of the Basic Law. On the one hand, Chief Executive Carrie Lam would be crazy to try to push such legislation through, given that the hyper-sensitive issue is bound to lead to the division and unrest she is desperate to avoid. On the other hand, the government must introduce laws against treason, sedition, subversion and secession soon, if only to ensure Beijing doesn’t impose its own harsh versions.

These views are not necessarily contradictory. Article 23 is a lightning rod for fierce resistance and protest. Who in 2017 Hong Kong is going to trust the Beijing-picked leaders to draft Beijing-ordained law on something like ‘subversion’, which in the mainland means essay-writing or giving the persecuted legal assistance? But not doing it could be worse – indeed, so bad that it’s not an option.

However, this boils down to a familiar basic choice: either bow down to the Communist Party in the hope that by accommodating some of its malice it will spare you the rest and perhaps even pat you on the head – or fight, resist and reject on every level and in whatever form you can.

Grenville Cross, pushing the ‘constructive appeasement’ approach, envisages locally-made Article 23 laws that criminalize actions, but not thoughts or words…

Nice. The problem is that Hong Kong is already drifting towards the proscription of ideas. Civil servants will now bar a candidate from an election on the grounds of inferred incorrect thinking, and authorities are now refusing permission for purported pro-independence gatherings as ‘not being in accordance with the Basic Law’ – the non-accordance referring to people’s beliefs, not the physical act of assembly. Logically, anyone proposing that Chief Executives be allowed three terms in office should be denied civil rights, as the Basic Law imposes a limit of two.

Assuming this trend continues under Carrie Lam (that is, it wasn’t an aberration during the CY Leung/Liaison Office 2012-2017 HK cultural revolution), and assuming Carrie does not/cannot resist, Beijing will demand that Hong Kong implement Article 23 laws, and those laws will by design infringe on ‘freedom of expression and peaceful advocacy’.

(The question probably isn’t whether to do it, so much as how. Bearing in mind the experience of 2003, it would make sense to implement Article 23 through a number of smaller-scale legislative measures rather than a high-profile ‘big bang’, as recommended by Auntie Elsie.)

This points to flagrant violation of freedom of expression in Hong Kong. It would also invite widespread disobedience faster than you can pick up a phone and order 1,000 ‘HK Independence’ stickers. And it would present an enforcement nightmare – would they arrest Facebook users for linking to ‘pro-independence’ websites?

The Communist Party seems determined to make its bogeyman real.

While we wait for all that – the latest (perhaps last) in our series of recommended cliché-avoiding Beijing-myth-free Hong Kong handover 20th anniversary articles is by William Pesek here. (In fact it breaks the cliché rule by including that most tired and hackneyed China trope: the clumsy reference to ‘guanxi meaning connections’. Presumably a harried copy editor needed to add an extra line.)