Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said yesterday the central government will not back down on plans for national security legislation for the financial hub, even as Britain stepped up criticism of the move.
Lam, speaking during a trip to Beijing to discuss the new security law, was flanked by Hong Kong’s justice secretary Teresa Cheng, its security secretary John Lee and its police chief Chris Tang.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson earlier said Britain will not walk away from the people of Hong Kong if China imposes a national security law that would conflict with its international obligations under a 1984 accord.
Hong Kong people must be free to mark the Tiananmen Square crackdown anniversary, the EU said yesterday, after police banned the city’s traditional annual vigil on health grounds.
It is the first time in three decades that the candlelit June 4 gathering, which usually attracts huge crowds, has been halted, and the EU added its voice to a growing international chorus of concern. With Beijing tightening its grip on Hong Kong with a new security law, critics have accused police of using coronavirus as an excuse to ban the rally.
EU spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson said the Tiananmen commemorations in Hong Kong – the only such event permitted on Chinese soil – was a “strong signal that key freedoms continue to be protected”.
“We note the restrictions that have been put in place this year in both Hong Kong and Macau on health grounds,” she told reporters in Brussels. “We trust that the people of Hong Kong and Macau will nevertheless be free to mark the anniversary appropriately. “A clear commitment to fully respecting guaranteed rights and freedoms is now more important than ever in light of recent developments.”
She said the EU continues to mourn and demand justice for those killed on June 4, 1989, when China sent tanks and troops to crush student protesters demanding reforms.
Hundreds were killed in the crackdown, with some estimates suggesting more than 1,000 perished, but all talk of it is strictly censored in China. The row over the vigil comes as tensions escalate between Beijing and the West about the freedoms and autonomy given to former British colony Hong Kong under the so-called “one country, two systems” policy. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of muzzling Hong Kong by banning the vigil, a week after certifying that Washington no longer regards the financial hub as autonomous from China. Beijing plans to impose a law criminalising acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong, saying it is needed to tackle “terrorism” and “separatism”. Opponents fear it will bring political oppression to a city supposedly guaranteed freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after its 1997 handover to China by Britain.
Britain has said it will offer millions of Hong Kongers visas and possible route to British citizenship if China pushes ahead with the law, drawing an angry response from Beijing.
China warned Britain yesterday that interfering in Hong Kong will backfire, after the former colonial power vowed to give sanctuary to locals who may flee the city if a controversial security law is passed.
The United States and Britain have enraged Beijing with their criticism of planned national security legislation that critics fear would destroy the semi-autonomous city’s limited freedoms.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has further angered Beijing by suggesting that it had time to “reconsider” the plan, which could soon be enacted after the proposal was endorsed by China’s parliament last week. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, meanwhile, said London would not “walk away” from Hong Kongers worried by Beijing’s control over the international business hub.
Johnson wrote in a column for The Times newspaper and the South China Morning Post that he would offer millions of Hong Kongers visas and a possible route to UK citizenship if China persists with its national security law.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said Beijing had lodged “serious representations” with London over Raab’s remarks, which “grossly interfered” in Hong Kong’s affairs. “We advise the UK to step back from the brink, abandon their Cold War mentality and colonial mindset, and recognise and respect the fact that Hong Kong has returned” to China, Zhao said at a regular briefing.
Zhao said London must “immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs and China’s internal affairs, or this will definitely backfire.” Hong Kong has been rocked by months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests over the past year.
In response Beijing has announced plans to introduce a sweeping national security law covering secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign interference.
China says the law – which will bypass Hong Kong’s legislature – is needed to tackle “terrorism” and “separatism” in a restless city it now regards as a direct national security threat.
But opponents, including many Western nations, fear it will bring mainland-style political oppression to a business hub that was supposedly guaranteed freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after its 1997 handover to China from Britain.
In parliament, Raab said he had reached out to Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Canada about contingency plans if the law creates a deluge of Hong Kongers looking to leave.
“I raised it on the Five Eyes call yesterday – the possibility of burden sharing if we see a mass exodus from Hong Kong,” Raab told lawmakers, referencing the intelligence-sharing alliance between the five powers.
In his column, Johnson wrote that if China proceeds to justify the “fears” of Hong Kongers, “then Britain could not in good conscience shrug our shoulders and walk away; instead we will honour our obligations and provide an alternative.”
About 350,000 people in Hong Kong currently hold British National (Overseas) passports, which allow visa-free access to Britain for up to six months.
Another 2.5mn people would be eligible to apply for one. Johnson said Britain could allow BN(O) holders to come for a renewable period of 12 months “and be given further immigration rights, including the right to work, which could place them on a route to citizenship”.
Britain says it views the proposed law as a breach of the 1984 agreement with Beijing ahead of the handover guaranteeing Hong Kong’s freedoms and a level of autonomy – a deal that formed the bedrock of its rise as a world-class finance centre. But Zhao said the Sino-British agreement “does not contain a single word or clause that gives the UK any responsibility for Hong Kong after its handover”.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam brushed aside international concerns while in Beijing for a meeting with top Chinese officials to discuss the proposed law.
“The international community and some foreign governments have been adopting blatant double standards... in commenting on this matter,” said Lam. “It is within the legitimate jurisdiction of any country to enact laws to protect and safeguard national security. The US is no exception, the UK is no exception.”
Lam added that experts and representatives from various sectors of Hong Kong society would be invited to discuss their views in central government-organised seminars on the mainland. Political tensions are rising in Hong Kong once more.
The city’s pro-Beijing weighted legislature is expected to pass on legislation that would criminalise insults to China’s national anthem.
The vote would fall on a day when Hong Kongers will also mark the anniversary of Beijing’s 1989 Tiananmen crackdown, despite city authorities banning the traditional annual vigil because of the coronavirus.
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