Hong Kong protesters disappointed by Beijing's backing of HK government
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China on Monday strongly backed the local Hong Kong government and police, saying violent protesters must be swiftly punished. The remarks follow another weekend of running street battles in the financial hub.
The protests began two months ago after the Hong Kong authorities published a draft extradition bill.
The demonstartions then turned into a wider pro-democracy movement seen as the most significant challenge to Beijing's authority since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997
“The development in the situation in Hong Kong, especially the violent acts of a small number of radicals, has severely damaged Hong Kong's overall situation of prosperity and stability, severely challenged Hong Kong's rule of law and social order, severely threatened the safety of Hong Kong residents' life and property, crossed the bottom line of the 'one country, two systems,' which is absolutely intolerable.”
These are the words of government spokesperson Yang Guang during a rare press conference of the Beijing-based Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council, the organisation that deals with the territory.
Yang Guang also rejected all criticism of amendments to the extradition law, the proposed legislation which triggered the demonstrations in the first place.
The protestors called for the authorities to scrap amendments to the “Fugitive Offenders Ordinance” that would allow Hong Kong authorities to send people to mainland China if Beijing were to issue an extradition request. The legislation dates back to 25 April 1997, just two months before London handed back Hong Kong to Beijing.
Article 1 specifically states that the law allows extradition of “fugitive offenders” to a place outside Hong Kong, excluding the People’s Republic of China. Hong Kong's Beijing-backed legislators want to include China as well.
Weeks of demonstrations forced Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam to postpone the bill, then declare it was “dead.” But she did not cancel it alltogether, and demonstrations continued. Beijing thinks that the activists are misguided.
“Quite a few Hong Kong residents know little about the situation on the mainland and its legal and judicial systems, and they may have doubts about the proposed amendments," says Yang Guang.
“So some individuals and media organisations with ulterior motives have been scaremongering, based on these doubts to incite public panic and obstruct the adoption of the bill."
Many in Hong Kong are unhappy in the wake of Beijing's latest intervention.
“The press conference re-established that the Hong Kong police and the Hong Kong government have Beijing’s full support,” says Bonnie Leung, Vice-President of the civil rights platform Civil Front that is involved in organising the demonstrations.
“So it is a huge disappointment because the State Council has the right to appoint or dismiss Chief Executive Carrie Lam and they refuse to do so."
Deep rooted cause for anger
“This means that they refuse to acknowledge what is now happening in Hong Kong, and what is the deep-rooted cause for all the anger of Hong Kong citizens and what caused such a huge campaign to carry on for seven weeks,” she says.
“The Hong Kong public faced Beijing’s state-sponsored violence,” says Law Yuk-kai, director of the Hong Kong Human Rights Monitor NGO, “including terrorist attacks in train stations by triads who are supported by pro-Beijing forces.
“The Hong Kong public wants the violence to end. But the State’s Hong Kong and Macao Office spokesperson want to add that violence to the mainly peaceful demonstrations in Hong Kong."
Meanwhile, Beijing still has another option to quell the unrest in Hong Kong: using the army.
According to Article 14 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini constitution, “The Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region may, when necessary, ask the Central People's Government for assistance from the garrison in the maintenance of public order ... ”
No moral authority
Currently China’s People’s Liberation Army has 6000 soldiers stationed in Hong Kong.
But Law Yuk-Kai says their use is unlikely for the time being:
“At this moment there is no strong reason for the government to do that,” he says, adding that “the government does not function at this moment. It does not respond to public demands for an independent inquiry into police brutality. They have no moral authority to govern.”
However, if demonstrators continue their actions, and the Hong Kong government continues to refuse their demands, specifically completely cancelling the extradition law, then unrest may continue unabated, and Beijing’s patience will be put to the test even more.