Hong Kong Pushes New Security Law to Root Out ‘Seeds of Unrest’

The Hong Kong government will enact a long-shelved security law to curb foreign influence and expand the definition of offenses like stealing state secrets and treason, officials announced on Tuesday, in a move expected to further silence dissent in the once-freewheeling Chinese territory.

The proposed law would lay out five major areas of offenses: treason, insurrection, theft of state secrets, sabotage and external interference. Some of the definitions would echo mainland Chinese treatments of those offenses.

“Foreign intelligence organizations, the C.I.A. and British intelligence agencies have publicly stated that they are doing a lot of work against China and Hong Kong,” the city’s leader, John Lee, said at a news conference announcing the push. Internally, the city is also still facing “the seed of unrest,” he continued.

The law, he said, “is to protect us from attacks by foreign forces and by foreign countries.”

The proposal, known as Article 23 legislation, has long been a major political flashpoint in Hong Kong, a former British colony that was promised certain freedoms when it returned to Chinese control in 1997. The government first tried to enact it in 2003, but backed down after major protests by residents who worried that it would limit civil liberties. Since then, successive leaders put off attempts to revive the legislation, which is required by Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, wary of triggering further backlash.

But in 2020, the central Chinese government imposed a sweeping national security law of its own on Hong Kong, after months of fierce street protests against Beijing’s growing influence in the city. In the past three years, the authorities have used that law to virtually wipe out the city’s political opposition, reshape its elections and severely limit the media and free expression.

Hong Kong officials say the new law will complement Beijing’s law and weed out what Mr. Lee said were hostile forces “still lurking in our society.” Critics say it will ensure a further decimation of human rights.

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