Calls for protest march in Hong Kong as China pushes new security laws

Calls for protest march in Hong Kong as China pushes new security laws

FILE PHOTO: Reuters Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography
FILE PHOTO: Reuters Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography

HONG KONG: Hong Kong activists on Friday (May 22) made online calls for a march against China's plans to impose national security legislation on the semi-autonomous city which many fear could erode its freedoms and international standing as a global finance hub.  

The move also hit financial markets, with Hong Kong stocks selling off as China's parliament sat on Friday to discuss the new laws.

A proposed march at noon in the central financial district did not materialise after online calls were heeded only by a handful of activists and as riot police made their presence visible on the streets.

But new calls have emerged for flash mobs at night across the territory and activists including Joshua Wong plan to meet the press to announce "street action" later on Friday.

READ: US warns China against 'highly destabilising' Hong Kong move

"This is a great moment to reboot the protest," said university student Kay, 24, who participated in last year's mass scale and often violent anti-government and anti-Beijing protests which this year entered a lull due to COVID-19.

The security law plan hit financial markets on Friday, due to concerns the semiautonomous city's status as a global financial hub was at risk, with Hong Kong stocks selling off as China's parliament sat to discuss the new law.

Hong Kong's Hang Seng index fell 3.7 per cent to a seven-week low, helping to pull down MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan 1.2 per cent.

A previous attempt to adopt similar legislation in 2003 was met with a protest that drew around half a million people onto the streets and was eventually shelved.

The legislation could be a historical turning point for Hong Kong and heighten geopolitical tensions between Beijing and Washington, whose relationship is already weakened by trade disputes and reciprocal accusations over the COVID-19 pandemic.

US President Donald Trump warned Washington would react "very strongly" if Beijing went ahead with the security law.

"It is starting to look like a US-China summer of discontent in the making," said Stephen Innes, chief global market strategist at AxiCorp.

Innes said the new law could potentially reignite the demonstrations of 2019, the biggest crisis the former British colony has faced since it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Hong Kong stocks fell 3.2 per cent, leading falls in Asia and the Hong Kong dollar dropped slightly against the US greenback.

DRAFT PROPOSAL

Speaking on Friday in his annual report to the Chinese parliament, Premier Li Keqiang said China will establish a "sound" legal system and enforcement mechanisms to ensure national security in Hong Kong and Macau, its other semi-autonomous city.

The proposed legislation for Hong Kong requires the territory to quickly finish enacting national security regulations under its mini-constitution, the Basic law, according to a draft seen by Reuters.

The document said the laws will tackle secession, subversion and terrorism activities, as well as foreign interference. It says it will safeguard the central government's "overall jurisdiction" as well as Hong Kong's "high autonomy".

"When needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People's Government will set up agencies," in Hong Kong to safeguard national security, the draft said.

Foreign diplomats are urgently seeking more details, fearing the statement could formalise and expand the presence of mainland security and intelligence services in Hong Kong. Currently they can take no enforcement action in the city.

A previous attempt to adopt similar legislation in 2003 was met with a protest that drew around half a million people onto the streets and was eventually shelved.

Activists and politicians have for years opposed the idea of national security laws, arguing they could erode the city's high degree of autonomy, guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" handover agreement, which China says it is undermined by protesters.

"It is essentially declaring directly that 'one country two systems' is null and a failure," said Eric Cheung, principal lecturer at Hong Kong University's department of law.

READ: China law requires Hong Kong to enact national security rules as soon as possible​​​​​​​

Activists and politicians have for years opposed the idea of national security laws, arguing they could erode the city's high degree of autonomy, guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" handover agreement, which China says it is undermined by protesters.

"THE END OF HONG KONG"

Local lawmakers denounced the plans on Thursday night as "the end of Hong Kong".

"Beijing is attempting to silence Hong Kongers’ critical voices with force and fear," pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong tweeted. 

"Deep down protesters know, we insist not because we are strong, but because we have no other choice."

READ: China plans national security laws for Hong Kong after last year's unrest

Hong Kong's Legislative Council chairman Andrew Leung said it "was definitely not the end of one country, two systems."

"If it continues like this in Hong Kong, what about the livelihood of our people, the economy and our business," he said, referring to protests

The US State Department warned a high-degree of autonomy and respect for human rights were key to preserving the territory's special status in US law, which has helped it maintain its position as a world financial centre.

Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council urged Beijing on Friday not to lead Hong Kong into "bigger turmoil" due to wrong policy decisions.

An editorial in the state-backed China Daily newspaper late on Thursday said the proposed legislation will "better safeguard Hong Kong's development".

"The overreaction of those rioters and their foreign backers, who see such legislation as a thorn in their side, only testifies to the pertinence of the decision and the urgent need for such legislation," it said.

MORE: Our coverage of the Hong Kong protests

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Source: Reuters/aa

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