China’s foreign ministry office in Hong Kong and the city’s security chief have defended proposed national security laws by describing some acts in mass pro-democracy protests last year as terrorism.
Several government departments issued statements in defence of the proposal after the biggest protest in the city on Sunday since the coronavirus lockdown.
The security legislation aims to tackle secession, subversion and terrorist activities and could see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, one of the world’s leading financial hubs.
Pro-democracy activists and politicians say the legislation could erode Hong Kong’s freedoms, guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement under which former colonial power Britain returned the territory to China in 1997.
More than half a million #HongKong residents have signed a petition in support of their home city having a national security law.
— China Daily Hong Kong (@CDHKedition) May 25, 2020
China’s Foreign Commissioner in Hong Kong, Xie Feng, said the laws would only target a minority of “troublemakers” who had posed “imminent danger” to China’s national security.
“The legislation will alleviate the grave concerns among local and foreign business communities about the violent and terrorist forces,” Mr Xie said.
He declined to clarify specifics of the proposed laws that have stoked concerns, including when the legislation would be enacted, what specific acts would be outlawed, and whether it would have retroactive effect.
Asked whether the security agencies to be set up in Hong Kong would have law enforcement powers, Mr Xie said: “Concerning the details, they are still being deliberated so I’m not in a position to tell you right now.”
A new security law being imposed on Hong Kong by China could put an end to the city's unique freedoms.
Why is the law so controversial and what do people fear the most? pic.twitter.com/fBzhQmXUqn
— DW News (@dwnews) May 25, 2020
Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials have come out in recent days seeking to reassure investors their interests would not be harmed and criticisng protesters.
Police Commissioner Chris Tang cited 14 cases involving explosives which he said were commonly used in terrorist attacks overseas, and five seizures of firearms and ammunition since protests began.
Secretary for Security John Lee said “terrorism is growing” and harmful activities such as calling for Hong Kong’s independence were becoming more rampant.
In scenes evoking memories of last year’s protests, crowds thronged city streets on Sunday, many chanting “Hong Kong independence, the only way out.”
Police said they arrested more than 180 people, firing tear gas and water cannon for the first time in months.
To all those in #HongKong currently fighting for the values you hold most dear, I want to say that #Taiwan has always given our utmost concern & support. Our government is closely watching developments & responding with caution to fully ensure our national security & interests. pic.twitter.com/t1mEZ2hssQ
— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) May 25, 2020
Calls for independence are anathema to Beijing, which considers Hong Kong an inalienable part of the country. The proposed framework stresses Beijing’s intent to crack down on such acts.
The US, Australia, Britain, Canada and others have expressed concerns about the legislation, widely seen as a potential turning point for China’s freest city.
Washington is considering whether to maintain Hong Kong’s special status in US law, which has helped it maintain its position as a global financial centre.
In Bejing, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused the US of “flagrantly interfering” in China’s national security legislation.
The Hong Kong Bar Association questioned the legality of a mechanism Beijing is expected to use to introduce the legislation, which annexes it to the city’s mini-constitution, bypassing public consultation and the legislature.
It also raised doubts about the legality of any new mainland agencies in the city as well as whether the independence of the judicial system will be preserved.