The European Union on Tuesday declared that a full investigation was needed into the “root causes” of protests in Hong Kong, where police and protesters turned the campus of one of its top universities into a battlefield.
The regional bloc also urged the city's government to conduct an examination of the violence and police actions as the most recent conflicts have raised six months of clashes to a new level of confrontation.
“A comprehensive inquiry into the violence, use of force and the root causes of the protests is a critical element in de-escalation efforts,” Maja Kocijancic, the EU spokeswoman for foreign affairs and security policy, said.
“The EU has close commercial, cultural and people-to-people ties with Hong Kong. We share a commitment to fundamental freedoms, the rule of law and human rights.”
The spokeswoman’s comments came as the Chinese University of Hong Kong became a combat zone on Tuesday; with the city’s police firing tear gas, rubber bullets and water cannons while protesters responded with bricks and petrol bombs.
The violence followed a similar escalation on Monday, when Hong Kong police shot a protester, while in a separate incident a man supporting Hong Kong police was set on fire outside a subway station, apparently by protesters.
Also, over the weekend, the police arrested three pro-democracy lawmakers, and notified four others they would be arrested, on charges of obstructing a Legislative Council meeting on May 11 that had been considering the extradition bill that provided the original spark to the protests.
Increasingly, Hong Kong has become a battleground between police and protesters since June, when resistance in the form of mass peaceful marches came in response to the government’s proposal, now shelved, to pass a law that would have allowed extradition of criminal suspects from the city to mainland China.
Those protests have since morphed into a larger activism, with Hongkongers demanding the ability to vote for their own city leadership. In its latest statement, the EU indirectly supported the protesters' demand by saying it shared a “commitment to fundamental freedoms” with Hong Kong.
In 2007, Beijing said it would grant universal suffrage to the city in 2017, but that plan was scrapped when the Chinese capital said in 2014 that the candidates had to be chosen by a “nominating committee”.
“The far-reaching impact of the situation on lives and livelihoods in the territory makes a credible and swift solution to the unrest imperative,” Kocijancic said.
“All stakeholders must renounce violence and engage constructively in de-escalation efforts … We monitor the situation very closely.”
The EU statement followed one issued on Monday by the US State Department, which said it was also watching events in Hong Kong with “grave concern” and called on Beijing to honour commitments under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, including commitments to Hong Kong’s rights and freedom.
The EU also urged Hong Kong to stick to its election schedule, which calls for district council elections in less than two weeks.
“Every effort needs to be made to ensure that the district council elections on 24th November proceed as planned. This will send an important signal about the exercise of democratic rights and freedoms enshrined in the Basic Law,” Kocijancic said.
Some members of the pro-Beijing bloc have urged the government to postpone the elections because of the protests and their violence.
On Tuesday, Chinese Communist Party’s mouthpiece People’s Daily said in a commentary that an end to the protest violence was necessary for the city to hold those elections on schedule.
“Only by supporting the police force to decisively put down the riots can [Hong Kong] return to peace and hold fair elections, to help Hong Kong start again,” the commentary said.
On Tuesday, though, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor pledged to make sure that the district council elections were held as scheduled.
“The EU attaches great importance to the high degree of autonomy vested in Hong Kong in the framework of ‘one country, two systems’,” Kocijancic said.
“This is crucial to the future prosperity and well-being of Hong Kong.”
More from South China Morning Post:
- Hong Kong protests: shot student remains in critical condition after surgery to remove right kidney, part of liver and bullet, as arguments rage over force used
- Beijing must have role if Hong Kong sets up inquiry into police handling of protests, says writer Ren Yi
- China accuses US and Britain of hypocrisy over violence in Hong Kong
- Hong Kong policeman who shot protester did not deviate from guidelines, police say, adding that another officer who moved suspect was ‘unaware of injury’
- Tear gas fired on campuses for first time as student protesters battle police at Chinese University, Polytechnic University and University of Hong Kong