HONG KONG • The Hong Kong government and China’s Foreign Ministry branch in the territory hit back yesterday at a report by Britain criticising Beijing’s plans for national security legislation, saying it was “biased” and intervened in others’ internal affairs.
The British government said the proposed legislation was a clear violation of China’s international obligations and a breach of the “one country, two systems” formula that has governed the former British colony since its handover in 1997.
British Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said a solution to the year-long unrest in the Chinese-ruled city, which has been marked by sometimes violent clashes between protesters and police, must come from Hong Kong, not from Beijing.
The Commissioner of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong said that Britain “seriously trampled on the principles of international law including non-interference in other countries’ internal affairs”.
In a typically strongly worded statement, it told Britain “Hong Kong returned 23 years ago” and that it should stop “distorting facts” as it had no sovereignty or power of supervision over the territory.
Hong Kong’s government said it firmly opposed the “inaccurate and biased remarks”.
The local authorities and Beijing have insisted the legislation will focus on small numbers of “troublemakers” who pose a national security threat and will not curb freedoms or hurt investors.
The exchange over the legislation, expected to be implemented by September, came as Hong Kong marked the anniversary of a major turning point in the city’s pro-democracy movement.
On June 12 last year, police fired tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters rallying against a proposed Bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
It was the first such response from police, who have argued that the use of “minimum” force was necessary to restore law and order, a move that radicalised many moderates in Hong Kong.
While the Bill was later withdrawn, the movement evolved into broader appeals for democracy amid fears that Beijing was tightening its grip.
Hundreds gathered yesterday in Mong Kok and in a mall in Sha Tin to mark last year’s pivotal moments by lighting their smartphones and chanting pro-democracy slogans. They defied social gathering limits of eight people imposed because of the coronavirus outbreak.
“I am worried about national security laws but… if we lose our faith or leave Hong Kong, no one will fight for freedom and democracy,” said sales employee Moon Chan, 22.
Riot police were seen checking IDs and searching people’s belongings. A few times, groups of officers broke formation to chase after several people, whom they pinned to the ground and arrested.
China’s Hong Kong Liaison Office, which serves as a platform for Beijing to project its influence in the city, blamed political groups “with ulterior motives” for “shocking chaos in Hong Kong education”.
Students have played a major role in the protests, culminating in the occupation of a university campus, which led to a weeks-long stand-off with the police in some of last year’s most violent scenes.
The liaison office added that “on the issue of cultivating qualified nationals and emphasising national feelings, there is only ‘one country’ and no ‘two systems'”.
Diplomats, lawyers and business leaders fear national security motives will be used to curb academic, media and other freedoms in Hong Kong. Britain has been joined by the United States and others in criticising the proposed legislation.