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Hong Kong police fire tear gas during protests of China’s proposed national security law

Hong Kong riot police fire tear gas at protesters on Sunday.
Hong Kong riot police fire tear gas at protesters Sunday. Thousands demonstrated against Beijing’s proposed national security legislation.
(Vincent Yu / Associated Press)

Hong Kong police fired tear gas and a water cannon at protesters in a popular shopping district Sunday as thousands of demonstrators took to the streets to march against China’s move to impose national security legislation.

Pro-democracy supporters have sharply criticized a proposal, set to be approved by China’s rubber-stamp parliament this week, that would ban secessionist and subversive activity, as well as foreign interference, in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. The bill would allow the Hong Kong government to set up mainland agencies in the city that would make it possible for Chinese agents to arbitrarily arrest people for activities deemed to be pro-democracy.

The pro-democracy camp says the proposal goes against the “one country, two systems” framework that promises Hong Kong freedoms not found in mainland China.

Crowds of demonstrators dressed in black gathered in the Causeway Bay district on Sunday, chanting slogans such as “Stand with Hong Kong,” “Liberate Hong Kong” and “Revolution of our times.”

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The protest was a continuation of a months-long pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong that began last year and had at times descended into violence between police and protesters.

Police raised blue flags, warning protesters to disperse, before firing multiple rounds of tear gas. They later fired a water cannon at the demonstrators.

At least 180 people were arrested, mostly on charges of unlawful assembly, police said.

They also said that some of the protesters threw bricks and splashed unidentified liquid at officers, injuring at least four members of the police media liaison team. They warned that such behavior was against the law and that police would pursue the matter.

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Prominent activist Tam Tak-chi was arrested during the protests for what police said was an unauthorized assembly. Tam said he was giving a “health talk” and was exempt from social-distancing measures that prohibited gatherings of more than eight people.

The bill that triggered Sunday’s rally was submitted at China’s national legislative session Friday. It is expected to be passed Thursday. It would bypass the city’s legislature in allowing the creation of agencies that could make arbitrary arrests.

Speaking at an annual news conference during the legislative session, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said Sunday that Hong Kong affairs were an internal matter for China, and that “no external interference will be tolerated.”

“Excessive unlawful foreign meddling in Hong Kong affairs has placed China’s national security in serious jeopardy,” Wang said, adding that the proposed legislation “does not affect the high degree of autonomy in Hong Kong.”

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“It does not affect the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents. And it does not affect the legitimate rights and interests of foreign investors in Hong Kong,” he said.

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo called the move “a death knell for the high degree of autonomy” that Beijing had promised Hong Kong.

The erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms prompted Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong before its handover to China in 1997, to condemn what he called “a new Chinese dictatorship.”

“I think the Hong Kong people have been betrayed by China, which has proved once again that you can’t trust it further than you can throw it,” Patten said in an interview with the Times of London.

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Patten is leading a coalition of at least 204 international lawmakers and policymakers who are decrying the proposed legislation. In a statement, the coalition called it a “flagrant breach” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a 1984 treaty that promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy even after the handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997.

President Trump’s national security adviser, Robert O’Brien, said it appeared that China was violating the 1984 treaty.

“And I can’t see how Hong Kong remains the Asian financial center if the Chinese Communist Party goes through and implements this national security law and takes over Hong Kong,” O’Brien said Sunday on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“That would be a tragedy for the people of Hong Kong,” he said, “but it will also be very bad for China.”

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Bernard Chan, a top-level Hong Kong politician and delegate to the National People’s Congress in Beijing, defended the national security legislation pushed by China, saying it was written into Hong Kong’s Basic Law — the city’s mini-constitution — but never enacted.

Chan, a pro-Beijing lawmaker, expressed concern that Hong Kong would inevitably face economic hardship given trade frictions between the U.S. and China.

“I think we are definitely the collateral damage being dragged into this thing. But then, I don’t think there’s any alternatives,” Chan said.

“But with or without this law, honestly, the U.S. and China will always ... be continuing this loggerhead for quite some time to come,” he said. “China will remain as a threat to the U.S. in terms of the ... world economic dominance.”


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