Chinese National Security Law Version to Succeed Over English One

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Posted on Friday, September 25th, 2020 10:14 am

The government of Hong Kong has given confirmation that the new national security law’s Chinese version will dominate over the English translation if there is any difference between the two. This is a stark departure from the official language policy of the city, which gives the same importance to both of the languages.

However, one lawyer who noted inconsistencies between the two versions opposed the move. According to him, he had never witnessed a piece of legislation drafted so poorly. A judge who had retired admitted he was struggling to comprehend the English version.

A couple of hours after government gazette law in Chinese, the news agency in Xinhua state released a translation but highlighted it as “a reference” and that it does not have official standing. The English version (official) was published on the website of the government only on Friday 3 days post the law coming into effect. 

The aim of the law is to punish and stop acts of terrorism, subversion, secession, and collusion with overseas parties and forces, with the lawbreakers facing up to life in prison.

English and Chinese possess the same status according to Official Languages Ordinance and benefit from the fairness of use for corresponding between the public and the government.

The Justice Department confirmed Chinese was the new law’s official language owing to the fact that it was a national law that the standing committee enacted. A spokesman said, “During the enforcement of the law by various government bureaus and departments, if necessary, they could seek legal advice from the Department of Justice.” 

However, Alan Wong Hok-ming, a practicing solicitor, questioned whether the administration had grounds to decide the Chinese version would triumph.

Wong said that this was not acceptable. He also added, “the government needs to tell us which piece of legislation supports its statement about Chinese as the official language of this new law. You can’t just decide on your own. The government should have the letter of the law to support its statement.”

Yet he noted that the law did not say that the version of the Chinese language would prevail. 

Wong said, “But as there isn’t such a provision in the law, it means that the government’s statement doesn’t have any legal effect.” 

Wong highlighted the discrepancies between the two texts. As a case to point, the English version’s Article 9 and 10 pertinent to the supervision of matters regarding national security have the expression “universities,” whereas the Chinese one simply refers to the word “schools.” 

In Article 29 about plotting with foreign parties, the translation of joint enterprise liability is “the institution, organization and individual referred to in the first paragraph of this article shall be convicted and punished for the same offense”.

According to Wong, this was a substandard translation. He said, “Offenders under a joint enterprise are subjected to different offenses according to their roles and participation. But the English version only simplifies this offense as one ‘convicted and punished for the same offense’. This is not the way how Hong Kong’s law is written”. 

Wong predicted that issues would surface if Chinese was the law’s official version. He said, “How will foreign judges or lawyers understand this law? This is a problem the authorities need to address”.  

However, Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, Basic Law Committee member, defended the decision of the government. 

Leung said, “It is a national law. And there is actually not an official English version. So we should refer to the Chinese text if there is discrepancy”. Furthermore, she added, “Sometimes, on the mainland, there are authorized English translations of court verdicts after a case is decided, so foreigners can also understand the law and the verdicts. But for the judge, he or she will only base a ruling on the Chinese text of a law.”

Henry Litton, a former Court of Final Appeal judge, revealed to the Post he was facing difficulty comprehending the law’s English translation. He said, “I do have some problems with the language in Xinhua’s version. I am, at present, struggling (with the help of a friend) with the Chinese text”.

Proposed Ban on Foreign Translation at Government Press Conferences Could Promote Chinese Culture

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Posted on Friday, September 4th, 2020 10:10 am

A Chinese legislator brought a proposal at the yearly (NPC) meetings to put an end to foreign translations at major events and press conferences in order to protect the Chinese language’s dignity. 

The motion that Yang Weiguo (deputy Communist Party secretary and mayor of Zhuzhou) raised at the national legislature would highlight the cultural confidence of China and better efficiency at important press briefings and diplomatic events.

He said, “Language is a medium for civilization, and to a large extent, carries our national culture and spirit. Furthermore, he also added, “By canceling foreign language translation at official press briefings and conferences, this would help effectively promote the spread of Chinese culture across the world, elevating the appeal and influence of the Chinese language, as well as increasing China’s initiative and right to speak in international discourse, further showing our confidence in Chinese culture.”

This Yang proposal comes at a time when the city of Beijing has striven to “tell China’s story well” abroad, including by injecting a lot of money (billions) into its state media apparatus (foreign-language) and having its diplomats unite with international social media platforms in large numbers. 

Under Xi Jinping, the Chinese President, Beijing has worked hard to transform its image internationally while promoting “cultural confidence” in China, with the media (state-run) taking the lead and at times leveraging nationalistic sentiment for the political and geopolitical objectives of the party. 

Proposals that NPC deputies submitted and the congress’s leadership screened become lawfully binding if they are voted by the body’s majority. According to the Chinese State Media, 506 proposals were submitted in 2020, and around 25 percent of those were devoted to public health, given the prevailing COVID 19 pandemic.

Yang said in his proposal that foreign reporters should adhere to local customs by gaining proficiency in Mandarin. He also said that it is only fair that they stop foreign language translation as international press events did not provide translation in the Chinese language.

He added that at reporter meetings and press conferences, every individual has their set of words translated into English and that increases the time needed and lowers efficiency. 

Yang, by mistake, also told the Daily that the briefings of Chinese foreign ministry had canceled foreign language translation a long time back and used just Mandarin. The truth is that the press conferences of the ministry continue to include English-language translations of the comments of the spokesperson, and the briefing’s transcripts are published on the ministry’s official website in English, Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic, and French. 

As Mandarin is one of the six official languages of the United Nations, Yang said that the decision to eliminate foreign translations would be 100 percent legal.