HONG KONG (Kyodo) -- The Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong affairs said in Beijing Wednesday that the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong was guilty of assisting in inciting secession by hosting a pro-independence forum.
Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters on the sidelines of a meeting that the FCC has committed an act beyond the scope of freedom of the speech, press freedom and freedom of association.
Andy Chan, founder of the independence-seeking Hong Kong National Party, was invited to speak Tuesday at the press club, which has insisted on hosting the event despite pressure from the local and Chinese authorities.
"FCC knew clearly the objectives of (Andy) Chan Ho-tin, of the Hong Kong National Party, yet it chose to ignore the repeated advices from the Hong Kong government and the (foreign ministry office) and insisted on inviting Chan to give a speech," Zhang said.
"(Hosting Chan) is not an ordinary unfriendly gesture, or an act of intervention or provocation, but it is aiding and abetting incitement of secession of the state. From a legal point of view, it is undoubtedly unlawful," he said, adding that it is time that Hong Kong "could consider" expediting the legislation for national security.
Hong Kong, the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, has a constitutional duty to legislate against sedition and secession acts as stipulated under Article 23 of the Basic Law, the mini-constitution in effect since the handover.
A legislative attempt in 2003 failed after half a million people took to the streets in protest, forcing the government to suspend the legislation.
Hong Kong's leader Carrie Lam, who participated in the meeting, also said it is normal to express regret over the event, but she stopped short of saying what crime the FCC or Chan has been alleged of committing.
"The talks have nothing to do with press freedom," she told reporters. "The (Hong Kong) government has a constitutional duty to protect national security. There is no room for compromise or tolerance to inciting Hong Kong independence."
Lam said by providing a platform for advocacy of separatism, the FCC has "indeed harmed the feelings of many Chinese people." But regarding Zhang's call for the national security bill legislation, she said the time and condition are still not ripe.
The FCC declined to further comment. In a statement issued Tuesday following the forum, the club said it "stands for freedom of speech and freedom of the press" and it "neither endorses nor opposes the views" of its speakers.
Chan, who promotes Hong Kong sovereignty as the only way to achieve democracy and save the territory from "Chinese colonialism," has said his party is likely to be prohibited by the government, which is also proof that the rule of law is fading in Hong Kong.