HONG KONG: The Hong Kong government and China’s foreign ministry branch in the city hit back on Friday (Jun 12) at a report by Britain criticising Beijing’s move to impose national security legislation on the global financial hub, saying the report was “inaccurate and biased”.
The British government said the proposed security law was a clear violation of China’s international obligations and a breach of the “one country, two systems” formula that has governed the former British colony since its handover to Chinese rule in 1997.
“There is still time for China to reconsider, to step back from the brink and respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and respect its own international obligations,” British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab wrote in the foreword to his government’s six-monthly report on Hong Kong.
Raab said a solution to the unrest fomented by a year of frequently violent rallies in the city “must come from Hong Kong, and cannot be imposed from mainland China”.
However, the Hong Kong government said it firmly opposed the report’s “inaccurate and biased remarks on the national security law and the high degree of autonomy enjoyed by (Hong Kong)”.
The Commissioner of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong said Britain “seriously trampled on the principles of international law including non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs”.
Authorities in both Hong Kong and Beijing have insisted the security legislation will focus on small numbers of “troublemakers” who pose a threat to national security and will not curb freedoms or hurt investors.
“Any allegation that the law will undermine Hong Kong people’s freedoms and ‘one country, two systems’ is no more than alarmist speculation and simply fallacious,” the Hong Kong government said in a statement.
Legislating on national security was within the purview of Beijing, it added, and the law would help better protect the rights of Hong Kong people while restoring stability in the financial centre.
The exchange over the security legislation, which is expected to be implemented by September, came as Hong Kong marked the anniversary of a major demonstration that saw a turning point in the city’s protest movement.
On Jun 12 last year, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets as protesters rallied in the heart of the business district against a proposed Bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
While the Bill was withdrawn in September, the protest movement evolved into broader appeals for democracy in the city amid fears Beijing was reneging on its pledge to give Hong Kongers freedoms not enjoyed in the mainland.
Dozens gathered on Friday in the working class district of Mong Kok and in a shopping mall in the Sha Tin district to mark last year’s pivotal moments. Riot police could be seen nearby.
“I am worried about national security laws but … if we lose our faith or we leave Hong Kong, no one will fight for freedom and democracy,” said Moon Chan, 22, who works in sales.
Earlier on Friday some students formed human chains and there were also small, peaceful lunchtime protests in shopping malls. In Taipei, the capital of Taiwan, dozens of people rallied in solidarity, chanting “Free Hong Kong. Revolution now”.
A student group and several labour unions postponed a vote scheduled for Sunday on whether to hold a wide-scale strike to Jun 20, citing forecasts for a storm.
China’s Hong Kong Liaison Office, which serves as a platform for Beijing to project its influence in the city, said schools should “immediately discourage” such activity. It blamed political groups “with ulterior motives” for “shocking chaos in Hong Kong education”.
Students have played a major role in the protests, culminating in the occupation of a university campus, which led to a weeks-long standoff with the police in some of last year’s most violent scenes.
The liaison office added that “on the issue of cultivating qualified nationals and emphasising national feelings, there is only ‘one country’ and no ‘two systems'”.
The student group said it would not “concede to bullying”.
Diplomats, lawyers and business leaders fear national security motives will be used to curb academic, media and other freedoms.
Britain has been joined by the United States, Australia and Canada in criticising the proposed security laws.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week singled out HSBC as one of the major companies backing the law, saying such “corporate kowtows” got little in return from Beijing and criticising the Chinese Communist Party’s “coercive bullying tactics”.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin went a step further on Thursday, saying he was working on various capital markets responses to the security law, including some measures that could restrict capital flows through the territory.