Hong Kong can't tolerate more ‘chaos’, says Lam on protest movement anniversary

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at her weekly press conference at government headquarters June 9, 2020.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam at her weekly press conference at government headquarters June 9, 2020. AFP - ANTHONY WALLACE

A year after pro-democracy protests erupted in the Chinese-held territory, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday said the semiautonomous city cannot afford to tolerate any more of the "chaos" as mass arrests, Covid-19 bans on gatherings and a looming national security law keep tensions on a low, but simmering scale.

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Lam was speaking at her weekly press briefing, which coincided with the first anniversary of a mass rally against a now-withdrawn bill that would have allowed people to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China for trial in courts controlled by the Communist Party.

That demonstration is largely viewed as the start of an anti-government protest movement that has revived in recent weeks amid fears over Beijing's tightening grip over the city with a planned imposition of a controversial new security law.

The protests, which erupted on June 9, 2019, saw millions taking to Hong Kong’s streets, forcing Lam to withdraw the extradition bill. But the legislation triggerd widespread concern that the central government in Beijing was stifling freedoms in the global financial hub, sparking months of anti-government protests.

"All of us can see the difficulty we have been through in the past year, and due to such serious situations we have more problems to deal with," Lam said during her weekly media conference, which coincided with the anniversary.

"We need to learn from mistakes, I wish all lawmakers can learn from mistakes - that Hong Kong cannot bear such chaos."

More rallies against security law expected

After a relative lull in protests during the coronavirus pandemic, demonstrators have returned to the streets in recent weeks and more rallies are expected.

Activists have called for people to gather at lunchtime to mark the anniversary of last year's mass rally. They have also announced plans to hold a referendum on Sunday about whether to launch a city-wide strike against the national security laws proposed last month.

That legislation, which authorities insist will focus on "troublemakers" who pose a threat to national security, has ratcheted tensions higher.

>> Read more on Beijing’s new security law for Hong Kong

Lam cautioned against the activists' plans to hold a strike referendum.

"Over the past year, Hong Kongers and the world have been bearing witness to the deteriorating situation in Hong Kong,with Beijing tightening its grip over the city's liberties, democracy activist Joshua Wong said in a Twitter feed.

Earlier this week, a senior Chinese official suggested that the degree of autonomy that Hong Kong would have when the post-colonial Sino-British Joint Declaration on its status runs out in 2047 could depend on how the city behaves until then.

Blow to 'one country, two systems'

Critics and protesters say that the national security law is a blow to the “one country, two systems” framework following the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997, which promised the city freedoms not found on the mainland.  

China blames the protests in part on foreign intervention and is hastening to enact a national security law for Hong Kong aimed at curbing secessionist and subversive activities. 

Hong Kong’s problems are a result of the opposition and foreign allies “attempting to turn Hong Kong into an independent or semi-independent political entity and a pawn to contain China’s development,” Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Chinese Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said in a speech posted to the office’s website Monday. 

“The more the bottom line of national security is consolidated, the greater the space will be for Hong Kong to leverage its advantages under ‘one country, two systems,’” Zhang said. 

China will “unswervingly” protect its sovereignty and block any outside interference in Hong Kong’s affairs, he said.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)   

 

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