HK protesters warned against new marches

HK protesters warned against new marches

Sweeping security law proposed by Beijing condemned by Western governments

A police officer looks on as activists carry a banner opposing new Chinese security laws, near China’s Liaison Office, in Hong Kong on Friday. (Reuters Photo)
A police officer looks on as activists carry a banner opposing new Chinese security laws, near China’s Liaison Office, in Hong Kong on Friday. (Reuters Photo)

HONG KONG: Hong Kong police warned protesters against unauthorised marches against China’s plans to impose a sweeping national security law, as the measure drew condemnation from the US, the UK and other Western governments.

The foreign ministers of the UK, Australia and Canada said they were “deeply concerned” by China’s proposal, while US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called it “disastrous” and urged Beijing to reconsider.

China said it would introduce a law to prevent and punish any acts of secession, subversion or terrorism in the city that threaten national security. Pro-democracy activists say the move endangers the future of “one country, two systems”, the principle under which the Asian financial hub has been overseen by Beijing since the handover by Britain in 1997.

The new law may be used to establish a domestic intelligence agency in Hong Kong similar to the colonial-era Special Branch, the territory’s former leader, Leung Chun-ying, said on Saturday.

“Singapore has a Special Branch. We don’t. America has all kinds of law enforcement agencies that are tasked to deal with national security threats. We don’t. So it’s not surprising that as part of the efforts to fill the national security legal gap, we need to have a body,” he said in an interview with Reuters. 

Mainland Chinese authorities could join Hong Kong police to investigate criminal suspects under the law, a Hong Kong politician said on Saturday, in comments likely to further enrage campaigners.

Police from outside Hong Kong would need "approval" from local authorities to conduct investigations, said Maria Tam.

"And you cannot investigate on your own," said Tam, who is vice-chairwoman of the Basic Law committee at the National People's Congress, which is expected to rubber-stamp the law in the next few days.

"I'm not worried about anybody being arrested by a police officer from the mainland and then taken back to China for investigation or punishment," she added.

Hong Kong’s China-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the city would fully cooperate with China to enact the legislation. 

Citizens should view the law “positively” given the urgent need for the measure, she said in a briefing on Friday.

“The enforcement of national security legislation won’t affect Hong Kong’s capitalism and the law will also protect foreign investors’ interests in HK,” she said.

“The legislation will also help Hong Kong to effectively nip local terrorism that may jeopardise national security in the bud and make Hong Kong a safer and more stable city.”

Her comments are certain to anger demonstrators and fuel protests that have revived in recent weeks following months of disruption because of the coronavirus.

Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most prominent activists, distributed flyers with a group of others outside the Hung Hom train station in Kowloon on Friday evening. “We urge China to withdraw the evil bill,” he said, adding that it was “eroding the fundamental freedom of Hong Kongers”.

Already, demonstrators have called for rallies against Beijing-backed legislation, including a bill that would criminalise disrespecting China’s national anthem, on Sunday and Wednesday.

Officers will be deployed around Hong Kong on Sunday at locations where marches are due to take place and will arrest demonstrators if necessary, according to a post on the police Facebook page.

China tried to ease fears about the proposed legislation in a meeting between central government officials and city representatives, Radio Television Hong Kong reported, quoting those who attended.

Vice Premier Han Zheng said at the Congress meeting that Beijing hoped to ensure the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people were protected and maintained, RTHK said, citing local Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference member Thomas So. There would be a consultation process, the news agency quoted him as saying.

The Communist Party-owned People’s Daily newspaper, meanwhile, described the security law as “anti-virus software” for Hong Kong to enhance law and order, and to build a stable foundation for the principle of “one country, two systems”.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, meanwhile, said national security in Hong Kong was “purely” an internal affair and “no country has the right to interfere”.

In London, a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the British government wanted to clarify exactly what China has proposed — but warned it expects Beijing to respect the autonomy Hong Kong is due.

Chris Patten, the last governor of the former British colony, said China has betrayed the people of Hong Kong so the West should stop kowtowing to Beijing for an illusory “great pot of gold”.

“The Hong Kong people have been betrayed by China,” Patten was quoted as saying by The Times newspaper. Britain, he said, had a “moral, economic and legal” duty to stand up for Hong Kong.

Patten, now 76, watched as the British flag was lowered over Hong Kong when the colony was handed back to China in 1997 after more than 150 years of British rule — imposed after Britain defeated China in the First Opium War.

“What we are seeing is a new Chinese dictatorship,” Patten said. “The British government should make it clear that what we are seeing is a complete destruction of the Joint Declaration.”

Patten said the West should stop chasing the illusory promise of Chinese gold and that Britain should think carefully about Chinese telecoms equipment maker Huawei’s involvement in the 5G network.

“We should stop being fooled that somehow at the end of the all the kowtowing there’s this great pot of gold waiting for us. It’s always been an illusion,” Patten said.

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