Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor says the government will not shy away from the responsibility of enacting Article 23 of the Basic Law.
She also insisted yesterday that things are being done to safeguard national security in Hong Kong.
But the Chief Executive's Office later clarified that Lam's comments did not refer to any preparation work for local legislation of a national security law.
Lam was responding to a question yesterday before the Executive Council meeting about whether Hong Kong would follow in Macau's footsteps and establish a committee to defend national security. Macau announced its committee on Monday.
Lam said the situations of the two SARs are different as Macau enacted Article 23 in 2009.
She said Hong Kong first needs to implement Article 23 through local legislation before other work on national security.
"Any chief executives and SAR government officials should bear the unavoidable responsibility to defend national security and sovereignty and there is some work being done now," Lam said.
But Lam's remark about work "being done" sparked speculation about whether the government is secretly preparing for local legislation of Article 23.
Hours later, the Chief Executive's Office said Lam was not referring to any initial or preparatory work for the local legislation of Article 23.
"It's about the actions taken regarding the Hong Kong National Party in accordance with the Societies Ordinance, which is also defending national security," a spokesman said.
Lam was also asked about pro-democracy party Demosisto's claim that two of its members had been detained by Ministry of State Security staff in the mainland in March and August.
She refused to comment on the individual cases as they were presented by Demosisto, adding there is no way to confirm whether the allegations are legitimate.
"The general principle is that every jurisdiction has its own law, and we all have to respect and obey the laws of the jurisdiction when we are there," Lam said.
She also said there is a notification mechanism between the SAR and the Ministry of Public Security, in which the mainland authorities should notify their Hong Kong counterparts if any Hongkongers are detained in the mainland.
Meanwhile, Lam's approval rating improved despite a host of recent controversies, including the scandals that have tainted the MTR's Sha Tin to Central Rail Link and the Guangzhou-Shenzhen-Hong Kong Express Rail Link, and the proposal to ban the Hong Kong National Party.
The University of Hong Kong's Public Opinion Programme interviewed 1,022 people between August 20 and 22, and found that Lam's popularity rating was 55.3 marks, slightly lower than the 55.4 marks she had two weeks ago.
But her latest approval rating was 49 percent, while the disapproval rating stood at 35 percent.
This gave her a net popularity of 14 percentage points, compared to a mere one percentage point two weeks ago.