As Hong Kong awoke on the first day of its life under the controversial new national security laws imposed by Beijing, activists called on residents to challenge the ban on protests and take to the streets.
The calls came as city chief Carrie Lam said at a ceremony marking the 23rd anniversary of his transfer to China on Wednesday that the laws were “the most important development in relations between the center – HKSAR [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] since the delivery ”.
Authorities in Beijing hailed the law as a “milestone” and a “turning point” that would put Hong Kong back on the road to development after a year of protests.
“This law will be the sword of Damocles hanging over a small group of criminals who want to interfere in Hong Kong affairs,” said Zhang Xiaoming, executive director of the Hong Kong and Macao affairs office.
China adopted a radical security law for the city on Tuesday, a landmark decision decried by many Western governments as an unprecedented attack on the freedoms and autonomy of the financial center.
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 a flag raising ceremony to mark the anniversary. Nearby, on Victoria Harbor, a huge barge floated in bright red and yellow letters to celebrate the new law.
Lam said last year – who saw the city paralyzed by the protests – was “the most serious challenge” of his four decades in public service, but said she thought these difficulties would pass with the support of Beijing.
She then led the crowd in toast, clinking champagne flutes with the representatives of Hong Kong and Beijing lined up on stage. “To the success and wealth of our homeland for the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong – cheers!”
The atmosphere outside was different, with protesters holding signs and burning signs referring to the new laws. Published just after its entry into force at 11 p.m., the law provides for life imprisonment for crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Alarmingly, the law seems to apply to everyone, whether they are residents of Hong Kong or not, or even Hong Kong.
“If you have already said something that might offend the PRC [People’s Republic of China] or the Hong Kong authorities, stay out of Hong Kong, “said Donald Clarke, a law professor at George Washington University.
Hong Kong University law professor Eric Cheung said the laws were worse than he expected. “The law does not define national security, which means that the definition of national security will be defined by the National Security Law of the People’s Republic of China,” he said.
Hong Kongers Worried About Beijing’s Confirmation That A Person Traveling Abroad To Successfully Lobby For Sanctions Could Be Charged With Foreign Collusion Or That Police Hate – By Spreading “rumors” of violence, for example – could be a national security offense.
“A blatant attack on our freedom of expression,” said human rights researcher Patrick Poon.
They also noted the emergence of a new police warning flag, indicating how much riskier the protests had just become. “You display flags or banners / chant slogans / or behave with an intention such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offenses under the National Security Law of the HKSAR”, he said. -he declares.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo released a statement condemning the law. “The CCP [China Communist party] has promised Hong Kong 50 years of freedom to the people of Hong Kong and has given them only 23, “said Pompeo.
Echoing the rhetoric of Beijing expressed earlier this year, Pompeo said the United States “would not sit idly by while China engulfs Hong Kong in its bossy mouth.”
The United States has imposed visa restrictions on Chinese security-related officials, and has committed to end defense and technology exports, and will end Hong Kong special status treatment.
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne has again expressed her “deep concern”. “The people of Hong Kong will make their own assessment 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 has warned that “China’s unilateral attempt to change the status quo” could jeopardize Xi Jinping’s planned state visit. The schedule for Xi’s state visit – delayed by the coronavirus – has not yet been finalized.
Xi’s visit is expected to demonstrate closer ties between Beijing and Tokyo after years of disagreements over the territory and the history of the war.
But conservatives in the ruling party are putting increasing pressure on Tokyo to drop a postponed visit, citing the crackdown on freedoms in Hong Kong and the repeated incursions of Chinese ships into waters near the Senkaku Islands, which are being administered by Japan but claimed by China.
Shen Chunyao, director of the legislative committee of the National People’s Congress, rejected international condemnation and threats of sanctions as “unjustified accusations” and “bandit logic”. The law was “a perfect combination of adhering to a country’s prerequisite and respecting the differences of two systems,” he said.
It is not yet known whether the Hong Kong people will heed the call to protest given the risks posed by the new security law – which came into effect overnight – and by increasingly aggressive police tactics even against peaceful rallies in recent months.
The anniversary of July 1 has long been a polarizing day in the semi-autonomous city.
Beijing loyalists celebrate Hong Kong’s return to the Chinese homeland after a century and a half of what many saw as a humiliating colonial regime in Britain.
Defenders of democracy have used the date to organize large demonstrations as popular anger against the Beijing regime has increased. During huge pro-democracy protests last year, the city’s legislature was besieged and ransacked by protesters.
For the first time since July 1, the flag-raising ceremony began 17 years ago, authorities have banned the annual march of democracy, citing fears of trouble and the coronavirus – although local transmissions have stopped .