Chinese media today blamed foreign interference over the huge protest that brought Hong Kong to a standstill yesterday, accusing opponents of the city’s pro-Beijing government of ‘collusion with the West’.
Organisers say 1,030,000 people marched through the streets of the territory against a proposed new law that would allow suspects wanted in mainland China to be sent across the border for trial.
Opponents of the legislation say it would erode precious freedoms in the city and leave dissidents at the mercy of Beijing’s opaque justice system.
Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam today said the legislature would debate the bill on Wednesday as planned, rejecting calls to delay or withdraw the law despite the massive protest.
The Chinese-language edition of the nationalistic Global Times dismissed Sunday’s mass demonstration, the biggest shows of public anger since Hong Kong was returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
‘It is very noteworthy that some international forces have significantly strengthened their interaction with the Hong Kong opposition in recent months,’ the paper said, describing the exchanges as ‘collusion’.
The editorial pointed to meetings between Hong Kong opposition figures and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, as well as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The English-language China Daily also played down the protest and focused on support for the proposed law.
An editorial in the paper said more than 700,000 people had backed the legislation through an online petition, ‘countering a protest by about 240,000 people’ – the more conservative attendance figure given by police.
‘Unfortunately, some Hong Kong residents have been hoodwinked by the opposition camp and their foreign allies into supporting the anti-extradition campaign,’ the paper said.
Drone footage showing Hong Kong’s cramped streets thronged with protestors made headlines around the world. The crowd included young families pushing babies in prams as well as the elderly braving 32 degree Celsius heat.
Protesters who arrived early chanted ‘no China extradition, no evil law’ while others called for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down.
One protester held a sign reading ‘Carry off Carrie’.
The huge rally passed without incident until shortly after midnight when small pockets of protesters fought running battles with police in chaotic and violent scenes.
Images show police using batons and firing pepper spray at protesters. Several people on both sides were injured, and ambulances were called. Metal barriers were left twisted and torn in the clashes.
But coverage in China was muted.
Sunday’s main evening news broadcast by China’s state broadcaster did not mention the protest, while the official Xinhua news agency’s English-language service repeated the city administration’s position on the law ‘in response to a public procession’.
Searches for the demonstration on China’s Twitter-like Weibo platform yielded no results, and instead showed older content about unrelated events.
A 50-year agreement between Hong Kong’s former colonial ruler, Britain, and China means the city is guaranteed freedoms of speech and assembly unseen on the Chinese mainland.
But activists and opposition politicians are increasingly warning that these liberties are being eroded as Beijing tightens its grip on the city.
The proposed law being pushed by the territory’s pro-Beijing leadership would allow extraditions to any country with which Hong Kong does not already have a treaty, including mainland China.
Supporters say the law is needed to stop the city becoming a safe haven for mainland fugitives, and it has said dissidents will not be extradited.
But critics fear Beijing would use the law to go after its opponents.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam signaled today that her government will go ahead with proposed amendments to the extradition law.
Lam told reporters the legislation is important and will help Hong Kong uphold justice and fulfill its international obligations. Safeguards added in May will ensure that the legislation protects human rights, she said.
She said her administration had already made major concessions to ensure political cases would not be considered and that human rights safeguards met international standards.
‘We have been listening and listening very attentively,’ she said.
But her words drew an incredulous response from opponents who accused her of ignoring massive public opposition.
‘Yesterday 1.03 million of us marched and the government is still indifferent, turning a deaf ear to the people. This government has become a dictatorship,’ lawmaker Ip Kin-yuen told reporters.
Political analyst Dixon Sing warned Lam could be facing ‘political suicide’ if she pushed for a showdown after such huge demonstrations.
‘In the short run, the Hong Kong government led by Carrie Lam will suffer a worsening legitimacy crisis,’ he told AFP. ‘Fewer and fewer people will trust her and the entire cabinet.’