Fri, Dec 27, 2002 - Page 8 News List

What Article 23 means for Taiwan

By Chang Kuo-Cheng 張國城

The government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) has recently begun a legislative drive to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law (基本法).

This law, passed by the National People's Congress of China, states "The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall enact laws on its own to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition, subversion against the Central People's Government, or theft of state secrets, to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region, and to prohibit political organizations or bodies of the Region from establishing ties with foreign political organizations or bodies."

The underlying implications of this development cannot be brushed aside, and in fact deserve close attention, especially in Taiwan.

During the British colonial period, Hong Kong was not without laws to punish the crime of "treason." Hong Kong Law, Chapter 200, Section 9 defines acts involving "seditious intent," that is to say, acts of treason against Her Majesty the Queen or Great Britain. But hardly anyone in Hong Kong felt constrained by this law, despite the fact that the mob violence of the 1960's was a vivid memory for many.

It was also difficult to detect any serious concern on the part of London in the post-World War II era about the liberty and freedoms of Hong Kong causing the colony to become a center of anti-British or anti-colonial rule.

Since Hong Kong's handover to China in 1997, it is fair to say, the people of Hong Kong have shown no less patriotism and no less obedience to China's central government than the people of other Chinese provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions.

There are no political groups or individuals harboring animosity, much less thoughts of rebellion, toward the People's Republic of China (PRC). The Chinese government knows this only too well. The possibility of Hong Kong declaring independence or of its people becoming rebellious or uncooperative in any other way is absolutely zero.

This being so, what exactly is the purpose of Article 23?

Actually, Article 23 not only explicitly asks the Hong Kong SAR to enact laws against treason, but also goes as far as banning political organizations and groups in Hong Kong from having contacts with similar groups abroad. It is the belief of this author that this is the real catch of Article 23.

The article is best described as one which seeks to eliminate any possibility of Hong Kong being used by any outside force to oppose China and foment chaos at home.

But, these "forces" were not born yesterday, nor even the day before that or, for that matter, the day before that. Why is it that in the past China was able to turn a blind eye to them, whilst today it takes active steps to stamp them out, taking the risk of being accused of breaching the spirit of "one country, two systems?"

One reason is probably that the Chinese leadership is sensing a much higher level of explosive internal pressure and unrest than the outside world -- especially Taiwan -- generally realizes.

As a result of official determination to eliminate disorder, some freedoms and borderline activities previously tolerated in Hong Kong -- such as membership in the Falun Gong and commemoration of the victims of the Tiananmen Square Massacre -- have therefore become unacceptable today.

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