In clear recognition that it needs to take the views of the people into consideration, the Hong Kong government has delayed indefinitely its efforts to enact national security legislation. The legislation is called for under Article Twenty-three of Hong Kong’s constitution, or Basic Law. But popular opposition to a proposed draft of the legislation was so strong that even pro-Beijing members of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council distanced themselves from it. They may well have been concerned that passage of the legislation would hurt them in next year’s elections. Half of Hong Kong’s legislators are to be directly elected. The others will be chosen by business, professional, civic, and political groups.
The strength of the opposition to the Article Twenty-three legislation became obvious on July 1st, the sixth anniversary of Britain’s return of Hong Kong to China. On that day, an estimated half-million people demonstrated in Hong Kong. Demonstrators voiced their concerns that the legislation would threaten the fundamental rights of free speech, free assembly, free association, and freedom of religion enjoyed by the people of Hong Kong.
Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China with a high degree of autonomy. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the U.S. “has always supported dialogue between the Hong Kong government and the Hong Kong public on issues of importance, including democracy and national security legislation”:
“We welcome the government’s decision to conduct open and public consultation on Article Twenty-three legislation. We also welcome the government’s intention to secure the approval of the community before enacting any new security laws.”
As U.S. officials have pointed out, one of the goals of Hong Kong’s Basic Law is the establishment of universal suffrage and a democratically elected government. That is the best way to ensure the protection of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong.