Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defended Beijing’s decision to implement a so-called national security law in the city, while accusing Washington of using double standards to criticize the law in her weekly press conference on June 2.
Tuesday marked Lam’s first public appearance since U.S. President Donald Trump announced on May 29 that it will curtail ties with Hong Kong, adopting measures, such as revoking the city’s preferential trade treatment under U.S. law. Beijing passed its national security law for Hong Kong a day earlier.
Before addressing the issue of the national security law, Lam cast the ongoing anti-Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong in an ominous light, defending Beijing’s need for a security law.
“The threat to national security in Hong Kong is constantly rising,” Lam said.
“We can look back over this past year and see that Hong Kong has undergone every kind of riot, which has been widely reported.
“These Hong Kong independence movements, the foreign interference, and people trying to subvert the operations of the Special Administration Region government’s operations—these activities, these behaviours, endanger the nation’s safety and endanger the life and well-being of the people. That is why some people ask if Hong Kong has now gone from a society of rule of law to that of rule of fear,” she continued.
Lam’s popularity has plunged since over 1 million Hongkongers took to the streets on June 9 last year to voice their opposition to the government’s controversial extradition bill that has since been fully-scrapped. Many feared that under the law, the city’s judicial autonomy would be compromised given that people living in and traveling through Hong Kong would be at risk of being put on trial in Chinese courts, which are notorious for the absence of rule of law.
Before the protests in May last year, Lam’s popularity stood at 44.7 percent, before plummeting to 18.2 percent in mid-February this year, according to polls by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute (HKPORI).
In a separate HKPORI poll, which asked respondents in April about their satisfaction towards the Hong Kong government’s performance on protecting human rights and freedom in the city, 63.1 percent of 1,005 respondents said they were dissatisfied.
Hong Kong police have arrested over 8,000 people since June last year—among them 81-year-old Martin Lee, a former lawmaker who is also known as the “father of democracy” in the former British colony.
Many rights groups have slammed Lam’s pro-Beijing government for failing to protect human rights during the protests, as there have been many instances in which peaceful protesters and journalists were victims of police violence.
Lam said that Beijing couldn’t “turn a blind eye” to what’s happening in Hong Kong and the necessity of passing the CCP’s national security law, especially since Hong Kong authorities haven’t been able to pass the Article 23 anti-subversion legislation for more than a decade.
Article 23 was first proposed by the Hong Kong government in 2003, only to be quickly scrapped due to mass protests amid concerns that the bill would mean an end to Hongkongers’ civil liberties.
Lam Take CCP Line, Blasts US Double Standard
Lam also echoed the CCP’s line when she equated current protests in the United States to those in Hong Kong, calling them both “riots.”
“They are highly concerned about their own national security, but when it comes to our national security, especially the situation in Hong Kong, they look through tinted glasses,” Lam said when talking about possible measures by foreign governments against the CCP’s security law.
She added: “People can see this double standard very clearly when looking at how riots were handled in the U.S. by the local authorities, and how it compares to the stance they took when almost the same kind of riots took place in Hong Kong last year.”
In the last few days, Chinese diplomats and state-run media have taken to social media to exploit the unrest in the United States triggered by the death of Black American George Floyd while in police custody.
For instance, Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of China’s hawkish state-run media Global Times, in a tweet on May 31, made the incredible claim that “Vicious HK rioters obviously are mastermind of violent protests across the US.”
But U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News on Sunday that he believes what is happening in Hong Kong and the United States is “completely different,” since Americans can speak freely and have access to a free press. Meanwhile, the CCP is seen to suppress freedom of expression and a free press for the Chinese people.
Gary Fan, a pro-democracy district counselor in Hong Kong, posted a diagram on his Facebook page on May 31 explaining four differences between the protests in Hong Kong and the United States.
Fan pointed out that not a single Hong Kong police officer has been charged, while in the United States, the officer responsible for kneeling on Floyd’s neck has been charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, and his three colleagues involved in the deadly arrest have been fired.
Fan also pointed out that the Minnesota governor had issued a public apology after state police arrested a CNN news crew. On the contrary, Fan said that the Hong Kong government has remained silent about the police’s body searches and arresting of reporters.
Lam added that Washington’s plan to strip the city’s special trade status with the United States will hurt both sides. In one example, she said that American companies in the city can currently access Chinese markets under a local trade agreement with China.
Tiananmen Anniversary Event Banned
When asked by a reporter whether the city’s annual vigil to mark the Tiananmen Square Massacre would still be allowed in Hong Kong after the security law is implemented, Lam refused to comment, saying that she did not know the details of the law.
Any discussion of the Tiananmen Square Massacre remains a taboo in communist China. The CCP continues to deny having killed protesters and deploys its censorship apparatus to wipe out any mention of the mass killing by authorities at the event.
On June 1, Hong Kong police issued a ban against the vigil—held annually in Hong Kong since 1990—arguing that the gathering would violate current social distancing rules to prevent the spread of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus, commonly known as the novel coronavirus.
In response to the police ban, Johnny Patterson, director of British NGO Hong Kong Watch, said on Twitter: “’The sadness is that, once the national security law is passed, this vigil may never be legal again.”
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) stated: “While Americans protest injustice—China bans in Hong Kong any remembrance of the 1989 massacre in Tiananmen Square—freedom is noisy but much better than the silence of oppression.”
Reuters contributed to this report.