Hong Kong’s protests look like they’re coming back

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Hong Kong’s protest leaders have vowed to return to the city’s streets after the arrest of 15 leading opposition figures amid new claims that Beijing was interfering in the city’s internal affairs.
The 15 were accused of organizing and taking part in unauthorized marches in August and October last year as part of a wave of anti-government demonstrations that swept the city, initially triggered by a now-withdrawn extradition bill.
Their supporters said the arrests were meant to silence dissent and are worried the authorities are hardening their stance, but pro-Beijing figures countered that the police were only doing their job and were not acting politically.
Those arrested were former lawmakers, including Martin Lee, an 81-year-old dubbed Hong Kong’s “father of democracy” for his decades of activism, and media tycoon Jimmy Lai. Lee, who had never been arrested before, said he had no regrets about participating in the protests.
“I’m relieved and very proud to finally be listed as a defendant after seeing so many brilliant young people arrested and charged, we’d be pursuing democracy together,” he said after being released on bail.
Opposition groups vowed to return to the city’s streets and the Civil Human Rights Front, the group behind many of last year’s mass demonstrations, said it had applied for permission to stage a protest on July 1, the anniversary of Britain’s handover of the city to Chinese rule.
The group said: “Hong Kong people will not back down in the face of mass arrests, and will persist on the irreversible revolution of our times.”
The weekend also saw the city’s government accused of “betrayal” in a row over the central government’s role in the city’s affairs.
Under the handover deal, the city was given a mini-constitution, the Basic Law, that guarantees the former British colony a high degree of autonomy.
But the central government has been repeatedly accused of crossing these boundaries, most recently when the liaison office, the Chinese government’s representative body in Hong Kong, attacked opposition lawmakers for their filibuster tactics in the legislature.
The liaison office and another central government body, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, now say they have the right and responsibility to “exercise supervision” and comment on the city’s politics without being accused of “interfering.“
The local government initially responded with a statement that said these two bodies were bound by the article in the Basic Law that bans interference.
But it then reversed this position, issuing two further statements – the last in the early hours of Sunday – that ended up aligning it with the central government’s stance.
A source from the Information Service Department said “more than one high-ranking official” requested the statement be amended twice after the first one was issued on Saturday night.
On Sunday, 22 pro-democracy lawmakers issued a joint statement condemning city leader Carrie Lam for “betraying Hong Kong” in her U-turn and “completely kneeling down to Beijing’s liaison office.”
Ronny Tong, a member of the government’s core advisory council, said Beijing’s stance was understandable if the Basic Law was interpreted under the principles of mainland Chinese civil law.
But University of Hong Kong constitutional law expert Professor Johannes Chan said the statements of the city’s government and the liaison office had “distorted the legislative intent of the Basic Law.”
In another broadside at critics over Hong Kong, Beijing reacted furiously to international criticism of the arrests of the pro-democracy leaders.
A spokesman of the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong urged the British and US governments to stop meddling in the city’s affairs.
He said the British Foreign Office had “distorted the truth by painting unauthorized assemblies as ‘peaceful protests,’ in a bid to whitewash, condone and exonerate the anti-China troublemakers in Hong Kong.”
On Sunday night, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden said he would stand up for freedom in Hong Kong.
Biden tweeted: “Trump has said he’s ‘standing with Xi Jinping.’ That’s weak. We need to be strong on values when it comes to China. That’s what I’ll do as president.”
This story originally appeared on Inkstone, a daily multimedia digest of China-focused news and features.
Copyright (c) 2020. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.
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