China threatens US counter measures if punished for Hong Kong law

Jerome Taylor, Su Xinqi - Agence France-Presse
China threatens US counter measures if punished for Hong Kong law
Pro-democracy protesters are arrested by police in the Causeway Bay district of Hong Kong on May 24, 2020, ahead of planned protests against a proposal to enact new security legislation in Hong Kong. The proposed legislation is expected to ban treason, subversion and sedition, and follows repeated warnings from Beijing that it will no longer tolerate dissent in Hong Kong, which was shaken by months of massive, sometimes violent anti-government protests last year.
AFP / Isaac Lawrence

HONG KONG, China — China on Monday threatened counter measures against the United States if it is punished for plans to impose on Hong Kong a sedition law, which the business hub's security chief hailed as a new tool to defeat "terrorism".

Beijing plans to pass the new security law for Hong Kong that bans treason, subversion and sedition after months of massive, often-violent pro-democracy protests last year.

But many Hong Kongers, business groups and Western nations fear the proposal could be a death blow to the city's treasured freedoms, and thousands took to the streets on Sunday despite a ban on mass gatherings introduced to combat coronavirus.

As police dispersed the crowds with tear gas and water cannon, Washington's national security advisor Robert O'Brien warned the new law could cost the city its preferential US trading status.

But China's foreign ministry said Beijing would react to any sanctions from Washington. 

"If the US insists on hurting China's interests, China will have to take every necessary measure to counter and oppose this," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters on Monday.

Hong Kong has become the latest flashpoint in soaring tensions between the world's two superpowers which China has likened to "the brink of a new Cold War".

The refusal to grant Hong Kongers democracy has sparked rare bipartisan support in an otherwise bitterly divided Washington during the Trump administration.

Beijing portrays the city's protests as a foreign-backed plot to destabilise the motherland and says other nations have no right to interfere in how the international business hub is run.

Mainland agents?

Protesters, who have hit the streets in their millions, say they are motivated by years of Beijing chipping away at the city's freedoms since it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.

Hong Kong enjoys liberties unseen on the mainland, as well as its own legal system and trade status.

Campaigners view the security law proposal as the most brazen move yet by Beijing to end free speech and the city's ability to make its own laws.

Of particular concern is a provision allowing Chinese security agents to operate in Hong Kong, with fears it could spark a crackdown on those voicing dissent against China's communist rulers.

On the mainland, subversion laws are routinely wielded against critics.

The proposed law, which China's rubber-stamp legislature is expected to act on quickly, will also bypass Hong Kong's own legislature.

The city's influential Bar Association on Monday described the proposed motion as "worrying and problematic" -- and warned it may even breach the territory's mini-constitution.

The proposal has spooked investors with Hong Kong's stock exchange suffering its largest drop in five years on Friday. On Monday it had yet to recover, closing just 0.10 percent up.

'Restore social order'

Hong Kong's unpopular pro-Beijing government has welcomed the law.

"Terrorism is growing in the city and activities which harm national security, such as 'Hong Kong independence', become more rampant," security minister John Lee said in a statement welcoming the planned legislation.

Police chief Chris Tang cited 14 recent cases where explosives had been seized and said the new law would "help combat the force of 'Hong Kong independence' and restore social order".

Last year's protests were initially sparked by plans to allow extraditions to the mainland but soon snowballed into a popular revolt against Beijing and the city's police force.

Beijing has dismissed protester demands for an inquiry into the police, amnesty for the 8,500 people arrested and universal suffrage.

The demonstrations fizzled at the start of the year as mass arrests and the coronavirus took their toll.

But they have rekindled in recent weeks with Sunday's rally producing the most intense clashes for months and police making at least 120 arrests.

During last year's huge pro-democracy rallies, mob attacks were common on both sides of the political divide and a video of protesters beating a lawyer at Sunday's rally was seized on by China's state media.

Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the nationalist tabloid Global Times, posted the video on Twitter -- a platform banned in mainland China.

"Let's see what the Washington-backed Hong Kong democracy really looks like," he wrote.



As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: January 11, 2023 - 12:15pm

Millions march in Hong Kong in a powerful rebuke of an extradition law feared to expose them to China's capricious justice system.

January 11, 2023 - 12:15pm

Hong Kong accuses Britain of interfering in its legal system after a UK minister met this week with lawyers representing jailed pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

Lai, the 75-year-old founder of the now-shuttered Apple Daily newspaper, is facing up to life in prison for "colluding with foreign forces" -- a crime under the security law Beijing imposed on Hong Kong to quash huge democracy protests in 2019.

His trial, scheduled for December last year, was pushed to September after Hong Kong authorities asked Beijing to step in and bar Lai from being represented by a London lawyer.

UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak's office confirmed that Minister for Asia Anne-Marie Trevelyan met Lai's legal team on Tuesday, calling it "the right approach" for the case. 

"The foreign office is providing support, or has provided support, to Jimmy Lai for some time," a spokesperson said. 

"We've been clear that the Hong Kong authorities must end their targeting of pro-democracy voices, including Jimmy Lai."

Hong Kong's government said it "opposes and condemns" acts by Lai's legal team and the UK government, "which attempted to undermine the rule of law of Hong Kong and interfere with the independent exercise of judicial power". -- AFP

November 25, 2022 - 2:34pm

A 90-year-old Hong Kong cardinal was among six dissidents convicted on Friday over their running of a multi-million-dollar defence fund for arrested anti-government protesters.

Five of the group were fined HK$4,000 (US$500) for the crime of failing to properly register the fund as a society, while a sixth got a smaller fine.

Cardinal Joseph Zen, one of Asia's highest-ranking Catholics, is among the scores of veteran activists facing legal threats as China stamps out protest in the former British colony.

The six were arrested under sweeping national security legislation that Beijing imposed in 2020, a year after the outbreak of huge and often violent protests.

They are yet to face charges under that law, which can carry a sentence of up to life in jail. — AFP

November 14, 2022 - 1:43pm

Hong Kong's government reacted with fury on Monday after a popular democracy protest song was played instead of the Chinese national anthem for the city's team at a rugby sevens tournament in South Korea.

The city's sports teams play the Chinese national anthem, but before Hong Kong took on South Korea in the final of the Asia Rugby Sevens Series in Incheon on Sunday, "Glory to Hong Kong" was broadcast instead.

The song was written by an anonymous composer during the huge and sometimes violent protests in 2019 and became an anthem for the city's now-crushed democracy movement.

The Hong Kong government "strongly deplores and opposes the playing of a song closely associated with violent protests and the 'independence' movement" in place of China's national anthem", it said in a statement. -- AFP

October 31, 2022 - 2:30pm

Two former chief editors of a now-shuttered media outlet in Hong Kong went on trial Monday for publishing "seditious" content, the latest prosecution of journalists in the business hub.

Sedition, a once little-used hangover from the British colonial period, has been embraced by prosecutors alongside a new national security law as China cracks down on dissent after democracy protests three years ago.

Chung Pui-kuen, 52, and Patrick Lam, 34, were jointly charged alongside Stand News' parent company Best Pencil Limited, of "conspiracy to publish and reproduce seditious publications".

The two journalists, who have been detained for the last 10 months, have pleaded not guilty and face up to two years in jail if convicted. — AFP

October 19, 2022 - 12:18pm

Hong Kong's new leader unveiled plans to resuscitate the business hub's fortunes on Wednesday, hoping to lure international expertise back to a city that has seen an exodus of talent and is mired in recession.

John Lee, a Beijing-anointed former security chief, gave a debut policy speech that focused heavily on both reviving the economy and maintaining security.

"Over the past two years, the local workforce shrank by about 140,000," he said. "Apart from actively nurturing and retaining local talents, the government will proactively trawl the world for talent."

Hong Kong has undergone its most tumultuous period since the city's 1997 handover to China. 

Huge and sometimes violent democracy protests three years ago were followed by a sweeping crackdown on dissent and some of the world's strictest coronavirus pandemic rules, many of which remained in place long after rival hubs were reopening.

The city is set to end the year in full-blown recession and has seen its fiscal deficit soar. — AFP

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