A possible clash between Hong Kong protesters and local police is in the offing as the city’s government pushes ahead with legislative debates on a controversial national anthem bill.
Hong Kong’s legislature, the Legislative Council (LegCo), will convene at 11 a.m. local time on May 27 for a second reading of the national anthem bill, according to a press release, which stipulates that anyone in Hong Kong found guilty of actions such as “singing the [Chinese] national anthem in a distorted or disrespectful way” could face fines of up to HK$50,000 ($6,440) and three years in prison.
The city, a former British colony, was returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, with the express guarantee that its autonomy and basic freedoms be preserved.
But Beijing’s influence has increasingly creeped into local politics.
The push for a national anthem law in Hong Kong was mandated by Beijing in late 2017, when the standing committee of China’s rubber-stamp legislature adopted the decision to add the law to Annex III of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution. This paved the way for a local bill to be drafted.
According to the city’s legislative process, the bill needs to pass three readings before it is brought to a vote.
Andrew Leung, current LegCo president, has set aside about 30 hours of debate time from Wednesday until June 4, for the second reading, according to Hong Kong media. The first reading was completed in January 2019.
The bill has been criticized by rights groups, including British NGO Hong Kong Watch and New York-based Human Rights Watch. The U.S. State Department also expressed concerns about the bill’s impact on the freedom of expression in its 2019 Hong Kong Policy Act Report.
On the messaging app Telegram, a popular platform for Hong Kong protesters to discuss future plans, netizens have proposed stopping the legislative process by surrounding the LegCo building beginning at 9 a.m. local time on May 27. Some posts also called on people to drive their cars to stop the flow of traffic near the LegCo building, in case protesters need to slow down police reinforcement.
The last time Hong Kong protesters staged a protest at LegCo, in July last year, they stormed and vandalized the building in an effort to pressure the government into scrapping an extradition bill that would allow the Chinese regime to transfer individuals to the mainland for trial. Later in September, the government announced that the bill was fully shelved.
And on June 12 last year, protesters surrounded LegCo in an attempt to stop the second reading of the extradition bill. The demonstration successfully forced the legislature to cancel its scheduled debate that day.
But in response to the swarm of protesters, police fired pepper spray, tear gas, and rubber bullets to disperse them—sparking public anger that drew millions to the streets in subsequent protests.
Hong Kong police are already preparing for potential protests. Around 6:30 p.m. local time on Tuesday, many water barricades appeared on roads near the LegCo building, sealing off areas including the Citic Tower situated opposite LegCo.
The planned protest on Wednesday is also in part voicing opposition to Beijing’s proposed “national security” law, which opens up the possibility of Beijing’s security agencies setting up operations in Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions (HKCTU), a pro-democracy labor and political group, is calling on workers to go on strike or take leave on Wednesday, to stand up against Beijing’s proposed security law.
In a statement, HKCTU said that the Chinese regime has “betrayed one country, two systems,” the framework which Beijing promised to rule Hong Kong while allowing autonomy.
The union said it wished for Hong Kong to “fully govern itself,” and that Hongkongers “will perish if they remain silent.”
Chen Daoxiang, the commander of China’s People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong, threatened on Tuesday that China’s military was ready to “safeguard national security” in the city, in an interview with China’s state-run media.
Some Hong Kong protesters are calling for the U.S. military to offer assistance. In a small protest inside the IFC shopping mall on Monday evening, protesters shouted out slogans such as “Destroy the Chinese Communist Party,” and “Fight for Freedom, Stand with Hong Kong.”
Some of them put up placards urging the U.S. military to come to the city to protect Hong Kong people.
The Hong Kong edition of The Epoch Times contributed to this report.