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China says Hong Kong primaries show attempt at ‘color revolution’

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)
July 19, 2020

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

China on Tuesday said last weekend’s democratic primaries were an attempt at a “color revolution” in Hong Kong, citing a draconian security law recently imposed on the city by its National People’s Congress.

A spokesman for the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) under China’s cabinet, the State Council, said the primaries represented an “erosion” of the powers of the Hong Kong government and a “flagrant provocation … which must not be allowed.”

“Hong Kong has become a base for color revolution, infiltration and subversive activities against Beijing,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman said it is illegal for anyone to organize unofficial elections in Hong Kong, calling for those found responsible to be “severely punished.”

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He singled out Hong Kong legal scholar Benny Tai, who suggested running the primaries, calling him “a political agent of foreign forces in Hong Kong,” adding that the five demands of last year’s protest movement and of pro-democracy lawmakers were a bid to overthrow the Hong Kong government.

The statement came after Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said on Monday that police in the city would investigate complaints that the primaries were in breach of the law, which bans actions or activities deemed subversive, secessionist, terrorist, or involving collusion with foreign powers.

“This was illegal manipulation of the election … and a blatant challenge to the … national security law for Hong Kong,” a spokesman said in a statement posted to the HKMAO’s official website. “We strongly … support the investigation and punishment of violators.”

Article 22 of China’s National Security Law for Hong Kong bans anyone from “seriously interfering in, disrupting or undermining the performance of duties and functions in accordance with the law by the body of central power of the People’s Republic of China or the body of power of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by force or threat of force or other unlawful means.”

Lam had also said that if the primaries were set up to coordinate the opposition response with a view to blocking government measures in LegCo, they would be regarded as subversive.

‘Primaries not illegal,’ organizer says

Tai dismissed the claim that the primaries were illegal in a social media post on Tuesday.

“These are arrangements of the relationships between the executive and legislative authorities provided in the Basic Law,” he wrote. “In no way [would] any unlawful means … be involved.”

“It is absurd [to view this] as subverting the state,” Tai said.

Organizers said 610,000 people turned out in Hong Kong over the weekend to vote in the primaries, despite warning notes struck by officials, a raid targeting the poll organizer’s office, and a new spike in coronavirus cases.

A police raid on the offices of the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (PORI), the polling organization tasked with running the election, also appeared to have done little to frighten people off.

Pro-democracy parties were planning to use the primaries to select candidates most likely to win seats in a bid to win more than 35 seats in the 70-seat LegCo chamber.

Incumbent pro-democracy lawmaker Helena Wong said she wouldn’t be running in September after losing in the weekend’s primaries, and would focus on supporting other pro-democracy candidates instead.

“I think given that what is going on right now, people have certain expectations of their LegCo members, and want them to take more of a fighting position and create more of an impression,” Wong told RFA.

“I hope that the new generation of candidates can respond to the need of the current time,” she said.

Holding authorities to account

Tai said the purpose of the primaries was to use the powers given to LegCo members under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, to hold the authorities to account.

“Of course, those powers would include vetoing the Budget,” he said.

Ivan Choy, politics lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), said Tai’s strategy may not work, as the city’s electoral system is complicated and unpredictable at the best of times.

“This isn’t just about the direct [geographical constituency] elections, but … also about whether they can turn the tide in the functional constituencies,” Choy said, in a reference to LegCo seats allocated to specific industries and professions.

“I made some calculations and the outcome isn’t particularly rosy,” he said.