By Min Lee, AP
HONG KONG — The southern Chinese gambling enclave Macau unveiled a proposed national security bill favored by Beijing, putting forward measures Wednesday similar to those that prompted half a million people to protest in nearby Hong Kong five years ago.
Former Portuguese territory Macau and former British colony Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in the late 1990s under mini-constitutions that promise Western-style civil liberties, such as freedom of speech, commonly denied in China.
But the mini-constitutions also require both territories to enact national security legislation eventually.
After Hong Kong proposed establishing offenses such as subversion and sedition, half a million people protested in 2003, denouncing the measure as a threat to freedoms. Then-leader Tung Chee hwa shelved the bill.
On Wednesday, Macau tackled the same issue, outlining proposals that ban treason, attempts to overthrow the Chinese government and theft of national secrets. The proposed offenses carry a maximum penalty of 25 years in jail.
Macau leader Edmund Ho said at a press conference Wednesday that the bill targets “serious criminal behavior” and won’t limit protests or criticism of Beijing.
“Chanting a few slogans, writing a few articles criticizing the central government or the Macau government — these activities won’t be regulated by this proposed law,” Ho told reporters.
Still, opposition lawmaker Ng Kuoc Cheong expressed concern about provisions that would ban preparation for acts like treason. Violators would face a maximum three years in jail.
“If officials don’t like what they see, they may consider it ‘preparation’ … There isn’t a clear definition,” Ng told reporters.
The bill is open to public comment until Nov. 30 before going to the legislature for a vote.
The proposals aren’t expected to face major opposition in Macau.
Unlike Hong Kong, Macau has a history of strong pro-China sentiment and only has a token pro-democracy opposition.
Under Chinese rule since 1999, Macau has thrived, eclipsing the Las Vegas Strip in gaming revenues since American operators built casinos there after the government ended a monopoly held by businessman Stanley Ho.
Large protests are rare, although activists last year organized protests against alleged corruption and illegal foreign workers. Calls to opposition lawmakers in Macau seeking comment went unanswered Wednesday.
The Hong Kong government said in a statement Wednesday that it has no immediate plans to revisit its national security bill, adding that its priorities are economic and livelihood issues.