A citywide strike that rocked Hong Kong in the latest act of defiance against the current administration has prompted angry criticism from Beijing.
For the second time in just over a week, China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, the Chinese regime’s highest body for managing Hong Kong affairs, hosted a press conference warning that “punishment” for Hong Kong protesters would “only be a matter of time.”
The press briefing is only the second time the office has made public responses since Hong Kong was transferred to Chinese rule from British administration in 1997.
On Aug. 5, Hongkongers held rallies and strikes throughout the city in an escalating campaign against the government’s handling of the extradition bill crisis. The city’s transportation network came to a standstill, as airline staff took off from work and protesters clogged major thoroughfares in busy districts.
The agency’s spokesperson, Yang Guang, accused the protesters—whom he called “brazen, violent, and criminal actors”—of challenging China’s “one country, two systems policy” and pushing Hong Kong “into a dangerous abyss,” language that closely resembles remarks made by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam a day earlier.
“Those who play with fire will perish by it,” Yang said. “Don’t ever misjudge the situation and mistake our restraint for weakness.”
Yang added that with the Chinese regime’s backing, the Hong Kong government and police would be “fully capable of punishing criminal activities and restoring order.”
Hongkongers began organizing large-scale demonstrations in early June to protest a controversial extradition bill that would allow mainland China to seek the extradition of suspects. Many fear that it would allow the Chinese regime to retaliate against dissidents and critics by transferring them to be put on trial in the mainland’s opaque court system.
Amid public pressure, Lam suspended the bill, but many remain dissatisfied, protesting each weekend to demand the bill’s full withdrawal. Beijing and the Hong Kong government alike have condemned the protesters as “rioters.” Meanwhile, Beijing has attacked international human rights groups, U.S. officials, and the UK government after they had expressed support for the protesters for interfering with China’s domestic affairs.
Civilian Press Conferences
Several local pro-democracy lawmakers hosted a press conference soon after to counter Beijing’s rhetoric.
Claudia Mo, a member of Hong Kong’s unicameral Legislative Council (LegCo), said Beijing was “smearing” protesters by characterizing them as separatists challenging China’s sovereignty.
“The fact that they [Beijing] would spin the Hong Kong situation to something completely out of proportion is very regrettable,” Mo said. “We need to discern fiction from facts, they are telling fiction.”
LegCo member Gary Fan said that by painting protesters as separatists, Beijing has emboldened local pro-Beijing groups to attack protesters.
On the evening of Aug. 5, white and blue-shirted mobs attacked groups of protesters with sticks and knives. Locals suspect they are connected to local pro-Beijing associations.
“[They are] pitting one group against another to fight. It’s very dangerous,” Fan said. He added that the fights would give the police an excuse to “restore order,” by cracking down on protesters.
Kwok Ka-ki, also LegCo member, said that it’s unwise for the Chinese regime to continue backing the current Hong Kong leader, who has yet to respond to protesters’ five demands, including completely dropping the extradition proposal and establishing an independent commission to investigate the police’s use of force on demonstrators.
“Protesting is a basic right guaranteed by law. It solidifies the ‘one country, two systems’ policy. If Beijing criticizes striking and protesting, then it would be outrightly denying the ‘one country, two systems,’” Kwok said.
Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule more than two decades ago under the framework known as “one country, two systems,” which guaranteed that the city would retain its extensive freedoms and rights, including a free press and an independent judiciary.
Meanwhile, a group of masked protesters in black shirts and yellow caps held a press conference on Aug. 6. The protesters said they hosted the briefing, dubbed the “people’s press conference,” in hopes of bringing “people’s unheard voices to the public and highlight the repeated condemnation and empty rhetoric presented by the [Hong Kong government].
“Some members of the public are saddened and discontented by officials’ distortion of the facts, defamation of the protesters, and clear ignorance of the culprits, which has led to the series of recent events,” the spokesperson said, adding that they were aggrieved to see the police’s “excessive violence” and “intentional assault on civilians.”
Pelosi Backs Protesters
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), in a statement on Aug. 6, praised Hongkongers for their “extraordinary outpouring of courage … that stands in stark contrast” to a “cowardly government that refuses to respect the rule of law.”
“The people of Hong Kong deserve the true autonomy that was promised, with the full rights guaranteed by the Hong Kong Basic Law and international agreements,” Pelosi said.
She said that she and other U.S. lawmakers will work to advance the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. The bill proposes making Hong Kong’s trading privileges contingent on the U.S. secretary of state certifying every year that the city is sufficiently autonomous to justify such special treatment.
A commissioner of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Aug. 6 denounced Pelosi’s statement as “completely wrong,” and demanded that she stop “colluding with violent offenders.” The commissioner also reiterated the regime’s previous accusations that U.S. politicians are largely responsible for the unrest in Hong Kong.
According to an Aug. 6 police press briefing, Hong Kong authorities have arrested 568 people since the protests first took place in June. Police arrested 148 people on Aug. 5 following a series of police-civilian clashes, in which 800 rounds of tear gas was fired.