China Ministry of Public Security backs Hong Kong police in rolling out national security law

·6 min read

China’s Ministry of Public Security has pledged to “direct and support” the Hong Kong police to punish crimes against national security, in its first comments on the city’s new national security law since it came into effect.

“[We] must direct Hong Kong’s police to stop the violence and curb disorder … to prevent, stop and punish the crimes and behaviours by an extremely small group of people who endanger national security,” the ministry’s leadership was quoted as saying in a post on the organisation’s website on Sunday.

The remarks were made during a Saturday meeting by the ministry’s Communist Party committee, which was convened to deliver President Xi Jinping instructions from a Politburo session on June 29, according to the ministry. Official reports on the Politburo session gave no details about the instructions on Hong Kong.

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The leadership of the secretive Ministry of State Security, China’s top intelligence agency, also vowed to “resolutely implement and enforce” the new national security law, state media reported on Sunday.

The ministry made the commitment during a “recent” meeting to study the party’s “deployment” on the national security law and its enforcement.

“[We] must punish according to the law crimes like separatism, subversion, organisation of terrorism and collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security,” state-run Legal Daily reported the ministry as saying.

The report said the ministry would “resolutely coordinate” with the central government’s new Office for Safeguarding National Security and Hong Kong police to safeguard national security in the city.

Hong Kong national security law official version:

The law, passed on June 30, prohibits secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with a foreign country or external elements to endanger national security, with a maximum penalty of life in prison.

The ministry’s remarks are its first on the new Hong Kong national security law since the passage of the legislation. The post did not offer more details on how the ministry planned to work with the city’s police.

In its statement, the Ministry of Public Security (MPS) also pledged to “fully support and coordinate with” the central government’s Office for Safeguarding National Security, and ensure the “stable and effective enforcement” of the law.

It called the passage of the new law “a milestone” in the “one country, two systems” legal framework.

Tian Feilong, a law professor at Beihang University in Beijing, said the MPS was expected to strengthen and normalise ties with the city’s police force, and might establish direct contacts with the force’s national security department.

“Existing liaison mechanisms between the [MPS] and [Hong Kong’s] Security Bureau will continue … and on top of it, the [MPS] is expected to strengthen ties and communication with Hong Kong police,” Tian said.

He added that this would be done mostly via the framework of the Office for Safeguarding National Security, whose staff can be “jointly dispatched” by mainland national security authorities, according to the law.

That office was granted vastly greater powers than expected, ranging from collecting intelligence, to handling cases and strengthening management of international non-government organisations and news agencies.

Its staff will have to observe local laws but will not be under Hong Kong jurisdiction while carrying out their duties. The office can also directly handle the city’s national security cases when a case is deemed to be beyond the city government’s capacity.

Tian said the MPS could establish ties with the Hong Kong police’s national security department for intelligence sharing and technical support.

“The regular communication channel might be necessary for Beijing to decide whether or not to directly handle certain cases,” he said.

Article 55 of the national security law states that the central government will have jurisdiction over certain national security cases, if they are considered “complex” due to the involvement of a foreign country, or deemed beyond the capacity of the Hong Kong government.

According to articles 56 and 57, once the central government is involved in such a case, it will be handled by mainland Chinese prosecutors and courts, and China’s criminal procedure law will be applied.

The Ministry of Public Security, which commands the country’s 1.7 million police officers, has made its role in affairs related to Hong Kong more public since the city’s months-long protests began in June 2019.

When the city’s protests were at their height in August, Public Security Minister Zhao Kezhi visited Guangdong, which neighbours Hong Kong, telling police officers in the province to step up their vigilance against “foreign subversion and infiltration”.

Zhao met Hong Kong’s new police chief, Chris Tang Ping-keung, in Beijing in December, and told him that the central government was giving its “strongest backing” to the Hong Kong Police Force, as the protests reached their sixth month.

Zhao later became a deputy chair of the Central Leading Group on Hong Kong and Macau Affairs, the party’s top decision-making group on the city’s affairs. The appointment was made public last month, when Beijing was preparing for Hong Kong’s national security law.

The MPS’s remarks on Hong Kong also came amid a reshuffle of the organisation’s leadership. Then vice-minister Sun Lijun was placed under investigation in April for “suspected serious violation of law and discipline”, a euphemism for corruption.

Another vice-minister, Meng Qingfeng, who had famously led the ministry’s investigation into “malicious” short selling of stocks in 2015, retired last month. Assistant minister Nie Furu also departed from his job on Sunday.

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