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Communist China says Hong Kong protests are ‘threat to national security’

Protesters gesture the five demands sign during demonstrations on Sunday, May 24, 2020 in Hong Kong. Hong Kong police fired tear gas and pepper spray onto demonstrators after thousands took to the streets in Causeway Bay protesting against Beijing's declaration that it intends to impose national security laws. (Ivan Abreu/SOPA Images/Zuma Press/TNS)
June 10, 2020

This article was originally published by Radio Free Asia and is reprinted with permission.

The ruling Chinese Communist Party is imposing a draconian new sedition and subversion law on Hong Kong because Beijing views recent protests in the city as a threat to national security, a top official in charge of implementing policy for the city said on Monday.

Zhang Xiaoming, a deputy director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office under China’s cabinet, the State Council, said Beijing’s announcement of the law last month was “based on the fact that the actions of internal and external enemies of Hong Kong have caused prolonged chaos there, and endangered national security.”

Zhang accused the protesters, the majority of whom have engaged in peaceful demands for fully democratic elections and greater police accountability in the face of widespread violence by riot police, of “showing obvious signs of terrorism.”

But “even more serious” was the advocacy of self-determination and independence by some groups, who had “insulted and burned the Chinese flag,” Zhang said in a speech marking the 30th anniversary of Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

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Zhang repeated Beijing’s view that its sovereignty over Hong Kong would always trump the city’s promised “high degree of autonomy,” citing speeches by late supreme leader Deng Xiaoping before the handover.

He also repeated accusations that “foreign forces” were responsible for “fanning the flames” of the protest movement.

“Some foreign and Taiwanese forces have blatantly interfered in the affairs of Hong Kong, stirring up trouble and fanning the flames and causing waves of trouble … for the Legislative Council [LegCo] of Hong Kong and other seats of political power,” Zhang said.

He said the threat of sanctions under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act had codified that interference into U.S. law.

Zhang said Beijing had had no choice but to impose the law on Hong Kong in spite of it being the city’s duty to enact the law itself under the Basic Law, citing filibustering by pro-democracy lawmakers that had repeatedly delayed the progress of the National Anthem Law banning “insults” to the Chinese national anthem through LegCo.

“I fear it would be even more difficult to complete the national security legislation within the expected time frame,” he said. “The central Government’s action at this time is an inevitable decision made under the constraints of realpolitik.”

He said Beijing had made the move after the protest movement, which began as mass opposition to now-shelved plans to allow extradition to mainland China, “highlighted the risk to national security.”

“The [legislation] is now all the more urgent and can brook no further delay,” Zhang said.

Hong Kong civil servants warned

His speech came as the head of Hong Kong’s traditionally neutral civil service warned its members they would need to pick a side and realize that they work for China as well as Hong Kong.

Secretary for the Civil Service Patrick Nip said the city’s 180,000 civil servants would do well to remember that they have a dual role.

He also appeared to warn them to be careful what they say online.

“There is incredible connectivity available via today’s internet, and speech that you think is private could in the final analysis turn out not to be private,” Nip warned.

“When you’re a public servant, you have to behave in a way that is appropriate to who you are, which means that there are some things that you’re not allowed to say or do, that might give rise to doubt or concern over whether you actually support government policy,” he said.

According to the South China Morning Post, Nip also said civil servants should remember that have “dual identities,” as they serve the government of China as well as Hong Kong.

He said future civil service training programs would aim to “strengthen civil servants’ sense of national identity.”

But Leung Chau-ting, chairman of the Hong Kong Federation of Civil Service Unions, said he didn’t understand what “dual identities” meant, and called for clarification.

“I think there’s an element of threat to what Patrick Nip was saying,” Leung told RFA. “Some civil servants have private accounts on Facebook, and I have freedom of speech to say what I like.”

“There is nothing in the civil service regulations to say that I can’t exercise my freedom of expression as a private individual [online],” Leung said.

He said mainland Chinese civil servants are subject to a completely separate set of rules from those in Hong Kong.

“We have our own civil service handbook that we have to abide by,” Leung said. “Does this mean we are going to have to take account of both handbooks? In all my years as a civil servant, I have never heard of such a thing.”

An end to autonomy, freedoms

Beijing last month ratified a plan to impose draconian sedition and subversion legislation on Hong Kong that will enable its feared state security police to operate in the city, which was promised the continuation of its traditional freedoms under the 1997 handover to China.

In a move that likely signals the end of Hong Kong’s promised autonomy and traditional freedoms of speech and association, the powerful National People’s Congress (NPC) standing committee will now draft the legislation and insert it into Hong Kong law without going through LegCo.

Meanwhile, U.S. President Donald Trump has warned that Chinese and Hong Kong officials “directly or indirectly involved in eroding Hong Kong’s autonomy” will face sanctions.

As Zhang repeated Beijing’s announcement that the national security law would be imposed on Hong Kong regardless of opposition, pro-democracy figures said there were already signs that they are under surveillance.

Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam said he was followed by an unidentified man in the vicinity of LegCo on Friday night, while former student leader Joshua Wong and district councilor Tiffany Yuen also reported being followed and filmed by unidentified personnel for several days.

Yuen said there were people “hanging around” as they visited an address in San Po Kong.

“When we left, they were still there. Joshua Wong asked them if they were state security police [from mainland China], but they denied it, and they denied being from [Beijing’s] Central Liaison Office,” she said.