Hong Kong's leader confirmed on Tuesday his intention to pass fresh national security laws soon to build on sweeping legislation Beijing imposed on the city in 2020, saying the city has the constitutional responsibility to impose the new laws.
Some business people, diplomats and academics are watching developments closely, saying the prospect of new laws targeting espionage, state secrets and foreign influence, known as Article 23, could have a deep impact on the global financial hub.
A consultation document will be released later on Tuesday, Chief Executive John Lee said, and the government will attempt to pass the legislation "as soon as possible".
"Why now? We can't wait. We can't afford to wait any longer," Lee said.
"While we, society as a whole, looks calm and looks very safe, we still have to watch out for potential sabotage, undercurrents that try to create troubles," he said, saying some foreign agents could still be active in Hong Kong.
Lee said freedoms would be safeguarded and the laws would meet international standards.
Security chief Chris Tang said the package would include sections covering state secrets and espionage, treason, sedition and the use of computers and electronics systems to conduct actions endangering national security.
While Chinese and Hong Kong government officials said the 2020 law was vital to restore stability after months of pro-democracy protests shook the city in 2019, the new package has long been required under the mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law.
That document guides the former British colony's relationship with its Chinese sovereign, and Article 23 stipulates that the city "shall enact laws on its own to prohibit acts and activities that endanger national security".
Some legal scholars say as local laws, the new legislation could sharpen the at times vaguely worded 2020 law, and older colonial-era laws considered unworkable.
"It almost certainly will set red lines where the existing laws are vague, particularly in defining state secrets and espionage,” said Simon Young, a professor at the University of Hong Kong's law school.
Tougher penalties against sedition, a colonial-era law which currently carries a two year sentence, are also expected in the package.
A previous government attempt to pass Article 23 laws was shelved after an estimated 500,000 people staged a peaceful protest in 2003, forcing the resignation of the then security minister.