Hong Kong’s security chief has announced that a dedicated police unit is being set up and would be ready to enforce controversial new national security laws from day one.
There is widespread international and commercial concern about the impact of the laws that are being imposed on the semi-autonomous region directly by Beijing, bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature. The move has prompted the UK to offer a visa to millions of Hongkongers if they felt uncomfortable staying.
State media said on Thursday that legislators were working “day and night” to draft the legislation.
Kennedy Wong Ying-ho – the deputy secretary general of the Hong Kong Coalition, an influential pro-Beijing group led by former chief executives of the region – told the state-run Global Times the laws would likely take effect within a month. He did not specify whether he was referring to a month from now, or from the time the laws were approved.
Attendees at a forum organised by the coalition heard the powerful standing committee of the National People’s Congress (NPC) would “spare no effort” in drafting the laws quickly.
The standing committee of the NPC drafts the new security laws and bills are meant to go through three readings before approval but can be adopted sooner.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s security chief, John Lee Ka-chiu, said police were establishing a separate dedicated unit to enforce the proposed national security laws, led by police commissioner Chris Tang Ping-keung.
“The new body will have intelligence-gathering capability, we’ll have investigation capability, we’ll have an action arm,” Lee told the South China Morning Post. “We should also have a strategy for the long-term development of this dedicated unit.”
Lee would not say how it would work with mainland agencies, but suggested there would be heavy involvement.
“I’m sure that the mainland authorities have a much wider network of intelligence gathering and also a much higher level of analysis,” Lee said. “They have a helicopter view of the whole thing. So they will let us know the whole picture when we, as a city, may not be able to just using our information.”
The Global Times reported the new Hong Kong force would work with mainland agencies on joint operations.
The laws have fuelled international and business concern over Beijing’s growing interference with Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms.
The laws are the latest in a string of significant economically destabilising events in Hong Kong, and there is widespread concern of an exodus of international corporations. A year of protests, the US-China trade war, and large-scale shutdowns due to the pandemic have had a significant impact on businesses.
“We just can’t seem to catch a break and things are ratcheting up,” said Tara Joseph, president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. “Hong Kong is a really valuable place for people both business-wise and personally. Nobody wants to run for the exit or throw the baby out with the bath water.”
Joseph said there was little detail coming forward about the laws, or about the US government’s increasingly provocative plans for its responses to Hong Kong and China.
“It’s a very fluid situation and lots of unanswered questions and that’s worrying because everyone’s trying to figure out how hard the security laws are going to be, and how difficult the changes that the US may put out there will be,” said Joseph.
A survey of its members this month found 82% had held regular headquarter-level discussions on crisis management, on how to help staff cope with social division and distress, and on strategy adjustments. Almost one quarter were considering scaling back operations or moving out of Hong Kong.