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Ex-security chief: Govt should prepare for LegCo election delay

By Joseph Li | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2020-07-29 12:09

Former secretary for security Lai Tung-kwok suggested that the government prepare contingency plans for the Legislative Council election scheduled for Sept 6 — including postponing the vote — in view of the worrying spike in COVID-19 cases.

Lai, the SAR government’s top security official from 2012-17, cited possible threats to public health from crowds gathering to vote in the coming election.

“If so many people get together, the situation could worsen and pose a very serious health threat,” he said in an interview with China Daily on Monday.

Hong Kong reported 106 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, after a record single-day high of 145 on Monday. The city has gone through a seven-day streak of 100-plus daily confirmed infections, taking the local tally to 2,884.

Lai estimated that voter turnout will be very high in a “more politicized” Hong Kong, as shown in November’s District Council election that saw nearly 3 million people cast their votes. “There was no COVID-19 then. Just imagine how long the queues would be today if voters were required to keep a social distance of 1.5 meters”.

Postponing the election would also present problems, Lai said.

“That’s why the government needs to have various contingency plans in place”.

Lai said it’s better to go ahead as planned if the situation allows, because candidates have done a lot of work, like “students preparing for an exam”.

UK’s move ‘violates pledge’

Lai, who served as the SAR’s director of immigration from 2002-08, also weighed in on the National Security Law and the United Kingdom’s announcement just after the legislation was passed that it would offer a pathway to citizenship to Hong Kong residents who hold British National (Overseas) passports.

Former secretary for security Lai Tung-kwok suggests during an interview with China Daily on Monday that the government consider postponing the Legislative Council election as coronavirus cases surge in the city. [PARKER ZHENG / CHINA DAILY]

The move violates a pledge the UK made as part of Sino-British Joint Declaration and shows it to be hypocritical and using the issue for political purposes.

“There is nothing in the joint declaration that talks about national security”, Lai said. “But there is a written memorandum exchanged between China and Britain that BN(O) passports are only deemed as travel documents, while according to China’s Nationality Law, China will not recognize dual nationality”.

He added that in addition to political gains, the British government also wants to make financial gains, as any Hong Kong people it accepts cannot receive government welfare during the initial six years of residency before they are granted right of abode.

“Britain merely wants to accept Hong Kong people who will bring wealth and skills with them to live in Britain”, Lai said.

In Lai’s view, law and order have returned to normal since the implementation of the National Security Law, noting that the scale of illegal protests and number of demonstrators were much smaller than before the law took effect.

Moreover, separatist comments on online platforms have also decreased, showing that pro-Hong Kong-independence activities have reached a low ebb, he added.

Lai, however, thinks that national security offenses won’t completely disappear because there will be people who challenge the law or test the bottom line of law enforcement and court sentences.

“This depends very much on decisive law enforcement”, he said.

He noted that police arrested 10 people related to national security offenses on July 1, among them a motorcyclist carrying a separatist flag who allegedly drove into a group of police officers and injured them. Within 48 hours, the Department of Justice agreed to charge him with subversion of State sovereignty and with terrorism, as well as objecting to his being granted bail.

In Lai’s view, people chanting separatist slogans and waving separatist banners in public appear to have committed the offenses of secession or subversion during illegal assemblies even though force was not used.

“I guess the third or lowest level of penalty will apply”, he said. “But an imprisonment of three years (or less), plus a criminal record, is quite a strong deterrent to young people who think that it is no big deal to just chant slogans or wave banners”.

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