HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body said Monday that many Hong Kong residents support a new national security law being imposed by Beijing in the hopes that it will help the city regain stability, despite concerns that it will be used to curb opposition in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory.
Tam Yiu Chung, Hong Kong’s representative to the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, said that over 1.8 million Hong Kong citizens signed a petition last month indicating their support of the legislation.
“In the past year, many things have happened in Hong Kong, especially violent incidents,” Tam said in an interview, referring to pro-democracy protests last year that often led to clashes between demonstrators and police. “Many citizens do not want to see such violence happening again.”
“They put their hope in the Hong Kong security law — that if it can be launched and passed, it may lead our society back to stability,” he said ahead of a Standing Committee meeting in Beijing later this week.
The national security legislation is aimed at curbing secessionist, subversive, terrorist and foreign interference activities that Beijing says fueled the monthslong anti-government protests. The Standing Committee has yet to put the legislation into Hong Kong’s constitution, known as the Basic Law, or offer details on it.
Tam, who was a window display designer in his youth and cut his teeth in politics by rising in the ranks of one of Hong Kong’s largest trade unions, said he had initially supported the 1989 student-led pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that were crushed by China’s military with deadly force.
But while at first he saw students standing up to the government, he said “the nature of the incident turned to something else.”
He said that if there currently are threats to national security in Hong Kong, the “one country, two systems” framework — under which the former British colony was given freedoms not found in mainland China following its return to Chinese control in 1997 – will be difficult to keep intact.
Anti-government protests have picked up steam in recent weeks to oppose the new legislation.
On Monday, pro-democracy activist Lee Cheuk-yan sharply rebuked the law, as he and 14 other activists who were arrested on charges of organizing the protests last year showed up for their second court appearance.
“It is a total disruption of the rule of law that we cherish so much, and now they want to change it to complete rule by China,” Lee said.
“The worst is still to come, but we will continue our struggle and we will be consistent in our goal of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong, and we will never give up,” he added.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, issued a video statement Monday appealing to the city’s people to support the legislation, saying that the “Hong Kong community has been traumatized” over the past year.
“Violence by rioters has escalated, with illegal firearms and explosives posing a terrorist threat,” she said. “Groups and individuals advocating Hong Kong independence and colluding with foreign forces to interfere with Hong Kong’s affairs have seriously undermined national interests and security.”
She said the national security law will only target criminal acts, while protecting the basic rights and freedoms of the majority of citizens.
On Monday evening, hundreds of people turned up at a shopping mall in Admiralty, part of Hong Kong’s business district, to pay tribute to a man, Marco Leung, who died on June 15 last year after falling from an elevated platform while unfurling a banner to protest an extradition bill that called for allowing suspects in Hong Kong to be sent to the mainland to stand trial. The bill, which had sparked the pro-democracy protests, was eventually scrapped.
Hundreds stood in line to leave flowers and handwritten notes on the ground or to light candles to mourn Leung’s death. Many protesters also entered the mall, waving flags calling for Hong Kong’s independence.