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Hong Kong withdraws National Security Bill
( 2003-09-05 13:56) (chinadaily.com.cn)

Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announced the withdrawal on Friday of the National Security (Legislative Provisions) Bill, known as Article 23 of the Basic Law, to allow more time for consultation and to focus on economic recovery.

Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (center), flanked by Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung (left) and Secretary for Security Ambrose Lee, announces in a news conference in Hong Kong, Friday, September 5, 2003, that he has withdrawn the drafted National Security Bill. [newsphoto.com.cn]
The bill -- already tabled for its first reading at the Legislative Council -- was put on hold following a massive public protest on July 1.

Addressing the media on Friday after a special Executive Council meeting, Tung noted that Article 23 of the Basic Law stipulates that Hong Kong must legislate  "on its own'' to ban actions that would threaten national security.

 "This represents the central government's trust in Hong Kong people,'' he said.

Legislating Article 23 is a constitutional obligation and one that should be fulfilled by the citizens of Hong Kong, he said.

But he stressed that people's concerns must be allayed before legislation.

There are still some concerns in the SAR relating to the detailed legislative provisions.  "For that reason I think we need to re-examine the whole issue,'' Tung said.

 "We want to consult very widely in the community again. We are not going ahead with the legislative process until there is sufficient consultation.''

Tung said he believed that after another round of consultation, Article 23 legislation would win consensus from the people of the SAR and the government would eventually be able to put it through.

The government has no timetable for introducing a new bill, he said.

Economic recovery is another reason behind the government's decision to withdraw the bill.

 "Hong Kong is in a painful economic adjustment, especially after SARS,'' he said.

The jobless rate hit a record high of 8.7 per cent for the three months to July, and consumer spending has been in a downward spiral for 57 months in succession.

 "I have heard a lot of views and learnt that the people are most concerned about the economy. I feel the society should devote its energy to improving the economy and creating more job opportunities,'' the chief executive said.

Asked whether he would like to see the laws pass during his term in office, Tung said:  "Being a Chinese citizen, I do think we should legislate Article 23, but we must go through consultation and get the support of the community before we act.''

When asked whether the central government might withhold some of its promised economic advantages now that Hong Kong has decided to delay the security bill's passage, Tung said that the two issues should not be linked  "at all.''

He added that,  "when the time is ripe, Hong Kong will be given priority as an offshore renminbi trading centre.''

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said Friday his government has decided to withdraw the drafted National Security Bill, known as the Article 23 of the Basic Law.

Tung said his decision was made amid lingering worries among the public over the bill, and because he felt Hong Kong should focus on making an economic recovery.

"I have listened to a lot of opinions, what our citizens care about the most at the moment are economic matters," Tung said.

Hong Kong was hit by the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis, and is currently battling record unemployment of 8.7 percent and deepening deflation.

This past year's SARS outbreak, which killed 299 people in Hong Kong, worsened the situation by prompting travel warnings that devastated Hong Kong's tourism and other business.

Legislative support for the bill unraveled following a public protest on July 1, and the bill was put on hold.

The failed first attempt to pass the bill shook Tung's administration, spurring the resignations of Financial Secretary Antony Leung and security chief Regina Ip.

Tung said the government will not introduce a new version of the bill until it has consulted thoroughly with the public and gained support. He said the government has no timetable to introduce a new bill.

"We won't begin a new legislative process if we do not have a thorough consultation or extensive support from the public," he said.

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