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New security law does not spell 'doom and gloom' for HK: Lam

Hong Kong leader says new national security law 'rather mild' and not as broad as those in other countries

HONG KONG: Hong Kong's national security law does not spell "doom and gloom", its leader said yesterday, as she tried to calm unease over legislation that critics say could mean the end of freedoms that have underpinned the city's success as a financial hub.

In an illustration of worries about the law, the company behind video app TikTok said it was preparing to leave the Hong Kong market in response to it, and other tech firms said they were suspending the processing of Hong Kong government's requests for user data.

The legislation punishes what China defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with up to life in prison.

It came into force at the same time it was made public, just before midnight last Tuesday, with police arresting about 300 people in protests the next day - about 10 of them for suspected violations of the new law.

"Surely, this is not doom and gloom for Hong Kong," the city's Beijing-backed leader Carrie Lam, told a regular weekly news conference.

"I am sure, with the passage of time, and efforts and facts are being laid out, confidence will grow in 'one country, two systems' and in Hong Kong's future," she said.

The legislation has been criticised by Hong Kong democracy activists, as well as countries such as Britain and the US, for undermining freedoms guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" formula agreed on when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Both Hong Kong and Chinese government officials have said the law, which gives Chinese security agencies an enforcement presence in the city for the first time, was vital to plug holes in national security defences, exposed by the city's failure to pass such legislation itself as required under its mini-Constitution, the Basic Law.

PROTESTS

Critics say its aim is to stamp out a pro-democracy movement that brought months of protests, at times violent, to the city last year.

Mrs Lam said cases involving a new Chinese agency that will be set up in Hong Kong under the law would be "rare", but nevertheless, national security was a "red line" that should not be crossed.

The legislation was not harsh when compared with that of other countries, she said.

"It is a rather mild law. Its scope is not as broad as that in other countries and even China," she said.

Despite such assurances, the law has had an effect. Pro-democracy activists such as Mr Joshua Wong disbanded their organisations while others have left.

Many shops have removed protest-related products and decorations, and public libraries have removed some books seen as supportive of the democracy movement.

Canada has suspended an extradition treaty with Hong Kong.

TikTok, a video app owned by China-based ByteDance, which has said in the past its user data is not stored in China, said it will exit the Hong Kong market within days.

Facebook, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, Google and Twitter have suspended processing government requests for user data in Hong Kong. - REUTERS

WORLD