HONG KONG • China's new national security legislation may be used to establish a domestic intelligence agency in Hong Kong similar to the colonial-era Special Branch, the territory's former leader Leung Chun Ying said yesterday.
His comments could give weight to concern among some Hong Kongers and Western governments that the national security legislation will herald a new era of political surveillance and law enforcement controlled from the mainland.
China's Parliament, the National People's Congress, announced on Thursday a draft decision on "establishing and improving a legal system and enforcement mechanism for Hong Kong to safeguard national security".
In an interview with Reuters, Mr Leung said: "There is a possibility... of the central people's government authorising Hong Kong law enforcement bodies, such as the police, to enforce the law."
He noted that the British had a Special Branch in Hong Kong to deal with national security threats, which was dismantled before the city was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
"All jurisdictions in the world, including the ones in the West, have laws that protect national security. So it's not surprising that as part of the efforts to fill the national security legal gap, we need to have a body," he said.
Mr Leung, Hong Kong's chief executive from 2012 to 2017, is now a vice-chairman of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, a top advisory body in China.
Hong Kong has an elite 700 officer-strong Security Wing that serving and retired policemen say has been increasingly replicating the work of the Special Branch, including monitoring some political and student activists. Senior officials liaise with mainland security and intelligence services, which have no enforcement powers in Hong Kong.
"Hong Kong has an obligation to protect the national security of China," said Mr Leung, adding that the legislation is targeted primarily at pro-independence movements and terrorism.