China says Hong Kong opposition primary a 'serious provocation'


Hong Kong (AFP)

China has described a primary by Hong Kong's pro-democracy parties as a "serious provocation", warning that some campaigning may have breached a tough new security law it imposed on the city.

"This is a serious provocation against the current election system," the Liaison Office, which represents China's government in the semi-autonomous city, said in a statement late Monday.

More than 600,000 Hong Kongers turned out over the weekend to choose candidates for upcoming legislative elections despite warnings from government officials that the event could breach Beijing's sweeping new law.

Polls for the city's partially elected legislature are due to take place in September.

Pro-democracy parties are keen to use seething public anger towards Beijing's increasingly authoritarian rule to win a majority within a chamber that has always been weighted in favour of pro-Beijing parties.

Control could give them a greater ability to stall budgets and legislation, one of the few tactics left open to the opposition camp.

But in its statement, the Liaison Office said campaigning to take control of the chamber is itself a breach of the new security law.

"This is suspected of violating Article 22 of the national security law and other local election regulations," the statement said.

Article 22 targets "subverting state power". It outlaws "serious interference and obstruction" of the central and Hong Kong governments, or any act that causes them to be "unable to perform their functions normally".

Beijing's security legislation bypassed Hong Kong's legislature and its contents were kept secret until the law was enacted at the end of last month.

It targets subversion, sedition, terrorism and foreign collusion with up to life in prison.

But its broad phrasing -- such as a ban on encouraging hatred towards China's government -- has sent fear rippling through a city used to being able to speak its mind.

Under the law, China has claimed jurisdiction over some serious cases and allowed its intelligence apparatus to set up shop openly in the city for the first time.

Those provisions have ended the legal firewall that existed since the 1997 handover between the mainland's party-controlled courts and Hong Kong's independent judiciary.

On the mainland, national security laws are routinely used to crush dissent, including subverting state power.

China says the law is needed to return stability after huge and often violent pro-democracy protests last year.

Opponents, including many Western nations, say the law has started to demolish the "One Country, Two Systems" model where China agreed to let Hong Kong retain key civil liberties, as well as legislative and judicial autonomy, until 2047.