As Hong Kong woke up on the first day of life under controversial new national security laws imposed by Beijing, activists urged residents to challenge the ban on protests and take to the streets.
The calls came as the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, said a ceremony on the occasion of the 23rd anniversary of his delivery to China on Wednesday, according to which the laws were “the most important development in the relationship between the center ̵
In Beijing, officials hailed the law as a “milestone” and a “turning point” that would bring Hong Kong back on the road to development after a year of protests.
“This law will be the sword of the damocles looming over a small group of criminals who want to interfere in Hong Kong affairs,” said Zhang Xiaoming, executive director of the Hong Kong and Macau offices.
On Tuesday, China passed a broad city security law, a historic move denounced by many Western governments as an unprecedented attack on the financial center’s freedoms and autonomy.
On Wednesday morning, Hong Kong politicians and dignitaries gathered in far greater numbers than those legally authorized by the city’s anti-pandemic measures for an anniversary-raising ceremony. Nearby, on Victoria harbor, a huge barge floated bright red and yellow letters to celebrate the new law.
Lam said that last year – which saw the city paralyzed by protests – was “the most serious challenge” in his four decades of civil service, but said he believed that these difficulties would pass with Beijing’s support.
He then led the crowd into a toast, clinking champagne flutes with representatives from Hong Kong and Beijing lined up on stage. “For the success and affluence of our motherland for Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability – hooray!”
Mood differed from the outside, with protesters holding placards and burning signs related to the new laws. Published immediately after the entry into force at 23:00, the law provides for sanctions, including life imprisonment for crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
From the United States, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo issued a statement condemning the law. “The CCP [China Communist party] he promised Hong Kong 50 years of freedom for the people of Hong Kong and gave them only 23 years, “said Pompeo.
Echoing Beijing’s rhetoric expressed earlier this year, Pompeo said that the United States “will not be lazily as China swallows Hong Kong in its authoritarian scum.”
The United States has imposed visa restrictions on Chinese security-related officials and has pledged to end exports of technology and defense, and will end special treatment of Hong Kong status.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne again expressed “deep concern”. “The people of Hong Kong will make their own assessments of how this decision will affect the future of their city,” said Payne. “The eyes of the world will remain on Hong Kong.”
Japanese defense minister Taro Kono warned that China’s “unilateral attempt to change the status quo” could jeopardize a state visit planned by Xi Jinping. The timing for Xi’s state visit – delayed by the coronavirus – has yet to be finalized.
Xi’s visit should demonstrate warmer ties between Beijing and Tokyo after years of disagreements over the territory and wartime history.
But conservatives within the ruling party are increasing pressure on Tokyo to abandon a rescheduled visit, citing repression of freedoms in Hong Kong and repeated raids by Chinese ships into the waters near the Senkaku islands, which are administered by Japan but claimed from China.
Shen rejected international condemnation and threats to sanctions such as “unwarranted accusations” and “bandit logic”. The law was “a perfect combination of adhering to a country’s prerequisite and respecting the differences between two systems,” he said.
It is not clear whether the Hongkongers will listen to the protest request given the risks posed by the new security law – which came into force overnight – and increasingly aggressive police tactics towards even peaceful encounters in recent months.
The anniversary of July 1st has long been a polarizing day in the semi-autonomous city.
Beijing’s loyalists celebrate Hong Kong’s return to the Chinese motherland after a century and a half of what many considered Britain’s colonial rule to be humiliating.
Democracy advocates have used the date to support major protests while popular anger against the waves of government in Beijing. During last year’s big pro-democracy demonstrations, the city legislature was besieged and swept away by protesters.
For the first time since July 17, the flag-raising ceremony began 17 years ago, authorities banned the annual march of democracy, citing fears of unrest and the coronavirus, although local broadcasting has ceased.
Prior to Britain’s 1997 surrender, China guaranteed Hong Kong’s civil liberties – as well as judicial and legislative autonomy – for 50 years in an agreement known as “one country, two systems”. The formula helped consolidate the city’s status as a world-class business center.
But critics have long accused Beijing of giving up this status, but they describe security law as the most brazen move ever. The passage of legislation was swift and opaque even by Beijing standards.
The law was passed in just six weeks, skipping the Hong Kong legislature breach, and the precise wording was kept secret from the city’s 7.5 million inhabitants, even when it came into effect.
The new set of powers radically restructures the relationship between Beijing and Hong Kong, overturning the legal firewall that exists between the city’s judiciary and the courts controlled by mainland parties.
China will have jurisdiction over “serious” cases and its security agencies will also be able to operate publicly in the city for the first time, not bound by local laws while performing their duties.