China warns against efforts to ‘disrupt Hong Kong with foreign support’ after activists testify before US Congress

Owen Churchill

Beijing has warned against efforts to “disrupt Hong Kong with foreign support”, after prominent pro-democracy figures from the city appealed to United States lawmakers to pass new legislation that bolsters US support for its autonomy.

Speaking at a regular briefing in Beijing on Wednesday, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang also reiterated that the US should not meddle in Hong Kong affairs.

“At the same time, we have to warn certain people, who engage in anti-China activities in order to disrupt Hong Kong with foreign support, that all their efforts are futile and destined to fail,” Geng said.

The comments came after Hong Kong activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Denise Ho testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) on Tuesday, urging US lawmakers to stand with the city’s protesters for greater democracy and freedom, and accusing police of using excessive force in handling the unrest.

The Hong Kong government also issued a statement on Wednesday, rejecting allegations made by Wong and Ho as “serious and unfounded”. A spokesman said human rights in Hong Kong were protected under the Basic Law, and that police had handled anti-government protests in the city over the past three months with restraint.

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“In various districts, protesters have committed extensive destructive acts such as hurling petrol bombs, setting fires and paralysing traffic. The police have been exercising a high level of restraint and have been carrying out enforcement actions in strict accordance with the law,” the spokesman said.

“Once the purpose of using force is achieved, the police will cease to use force. The police’s enforcement actions are to restore public order as soon as possible and to protect the lives and property of the general public,” he said, adding that the government fully supported the police to “strictly enforce the law and bring offenders to justice”.

While triggered by a now-dead extradition bill, protests in Hong Kong have over time adopted a broader pro-democracy agenda, including demands for universal suffrage; an independent inquiry into allegations of police brutality; and amnesty for the hundreds of Hongkongers arrested since demonstrations began in June.

The hearing in Washington was held as US lawmakers mull over the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act introduced by Senator Marco Rubio of Florida and Representative Christopher Smith of New Jersey, which would, among other things, require the US to sanction Chinese officials deemed responsible for “undermining basic freedoms in Hong Kong”.

Support in Congress is growing for the bipartisan bill, which is now backed by 45 lawmakers across the Senate and House of Representatives.

Beijing regards the legislative move as evidence of efforts by “foreign forces” to interfere in Hong Kong affairs, which it considers an internal matter.

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Testifying before Tuesday’s panel on Capitol Hill, Wong said historians would look back on 2019 as “a watershed”. The 22-year-old, who is on bail pending an appeal against unlawful assembly charges, expressed hope that historians would “celebrate the United States Congress for having stood on the side of Hongkongers, the side of human rights and democracy”.

Hong Kong singer and activist Denise Ho urged lawmakers to pass the bill, and said that hers was “not a plea for the so-called ‘foreign interference’”.

“This is a plea for democracy,” Ho told the panel. “This is a plea for the freedom to choose.”

Denise Ho testifies on Tuesday in support of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act. “This is a plea for the freedom to choose,” she said. Photo: Bloomberg

Though supportive of the bill, Sharon Hom of Human Rights in China, an advocacy group promoting democratic reforms in China, said that Hongkongers did not need the salvation of foreign governments like the US. “I think Hong Kong people will save ourselves,” she said.

“What I think is necessary from the international community is please help make the human cost less,” said Hom, who is the advocacy group’s executive director. “Because it’s very clear and heartbreaking that the young people are ready to go to the mat.”

In his testimony, Wong, who heads Hong Kong’s pro-democracy Demosisto party and was one of the leaders of the 2014 Occupy movement, said that Beijing had “turned a whole generation of youngsters [into] dissidents”.

In May, pro-democracy activists, including Martin Lee and Nathan Law, also testified before the Congressional-Executive Commission on China about the then-proposed extradition bill that would have permitted extraditions to the mainland, as well as other jurisdictions with which Hong Kong lacked a treaty.

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Support for Hong Kong on Tuesday was not limited to a push for passage of the new bill. Later in the day, activists launched the Hong Kong Democracy Council (HKDC), a US-registered non-governmental organisation based in Washington that describes itself as “the new, unified and hopeful voice for Hong Kong democracy and human rights in DC”.

At an open-air news conference held a stone’s throw from Tuesday’s hearing, members of Congress, activists, professors and singers voiced support for Hong Kong’s struggle.

“This uphill battle, we need to stand as one in solidarity,” Wong said in support of the new organisation. “Now is the time for the world to pay attention to Hong Kong.”

Representative Tom Suozzi of New York shakes hands with Joshua Wong before the hearing, as the panel’s chairman, Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, looks on. Photo: AFP

Anna Cheung, an HKDC founding board member and biology professor at Manhattanville College in Harrison, New York, said it took about three months to organise the group, which she said would help strengthen communication with Congress and educate Americans about Hong Kong.

Cheung said she expected the council to continue, financed by crowd funding, even after the current showdown ends given the continuing nature of problems in Hong Kong.

“We’ve seen with the ‘umbrella movement’, boom, in five years it wakes up,” she said.

At one point during the news conference, screeching electronic feedback blared from a microphone. “Is that Beijing?” joked Representative Tom Suozzi, a Democrat of New York, from the makeshift lectern.

“The world is paying attention to what’s happening in Hong Kong right now,” he said. “We can’t stop.”

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