Hong Kong, May 26 (efe-epa).- Hong Kong’s chief executive on Tuesday defended the new national security law that Beijing plans to approve this week, promising that it will not weaken the high degree of autonomy of the city or the rights and freedoms of its residents.
Carrie Lam was speaking at a press conference, her first public appearance since the Beijing authorities announced that they would push for a national security law for Hong Kong.
The legislation, which is being debated at the National People’s Congress and which is likely to be approved this week, aims to prohibit “any act of treason, secession, sedition and subversion” against the central government, in addition to the “theft of state secrets and the organization of activities in Hong Kong by foreign political organizations.”
The Hong Kong leader said that “in the last 23 years (since Hong Kong’s return to China), whenever people worried about Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and freedom of expression and protest, time and again, Hong Kong has proven that we uphold and preserve those values,” adding that it is necessary to understand why such legislation is needed at this time.
Lam also denied that Beijing is bypassing the city’s legislative mechanisms to enact the law, pointing out that such an accusation ignores the constitutional relationship between the semi-autonomous city and the central government.
The city’s pro-democracy movement believes that the national security law could have far-reaching consequences for the autonomy of the former British colony, governed by the ‘one country, two systems’ model, which gives power to the Hong Kong authorities over various issues such as immigration and monetary policies.
“Beijing has just hammered the final nail in the coffin for Hong Kong’s autonomy. The promise of ‘one country, two systems’ is dead,” prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong wrote in a column published Monday in the United States newspaper The Washington Post.
Lam also dismissed a statement from the Hong Kong Bar Association – which stated that the Chinese legislative does not have the power to impose the legislation – saying that its enactment will not go against the Basic Law (Hong Kong’s Magna Carta) and will be “strictly in accordance with the Chinese Constitution.”
She called the international community’s criticism that the law would affect Hong Kong citizens’ freedoms and weaken the city’s financial status “nonsense.”
Lam said such an arrangement is the general practice overseas and other countries have no right to interfere in China’s plans, and added that another “totally groundless” claim is that the national security legislation will undermine Hong Kong’s position as an international financial center.
Fear of an impending crackdown sparked new protests in Hong Kong on Sunday, when some 180 people were arrested as police fired tear gas to disperse violent protesters.
The protest was the biggest since January, when the anti-government movement stopped, largely due to the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Liaison Office of the Central People’s Government in Hong Kong, the official office representing Beijing in the special administrative region, “strongly condemned the illegal assemblies and violent acts by rioters in Hong Kong,” Chinese state news agency Xinhua reported Tuesday.
“The rioters blocked roads, vandalized public facilities, set fire, and beat up innocent people, causing severe damage to the security of people’s lives and properties and endangering national security,” Xinhua said quoting the Office spokesperson, adding that there were also calls for Hong Kong independence.
“All these facts proved that it is imperative and urgent to introduce national security legislation for Hong Kong,” it added, citing the spokesperson.
Pro-democracy activists plan to gather Wednesday in the vicinity of the Legislative Council (parliament) and block traffic while lawmakers deliberate on a controversial law that could penalize disrespect for the Chinese national anthem.
The area around the headquarters has already cordoned off and it is expected that up to 3,000 police officers will be deployed.
However, more people are expected for the march that the Civil Front for Human Rights calls every July 1. This day has emerged as an annual platform on which protesters demand universal suffrage and call for the defense of civil liberties, including freedom of expression. EFE-EPA