Hong Kong’s leader has defended the city’s recent mass arrests of opposition figures and accused foreign politicians of adopting “double standards” for condoning 2019’s often violent anti-government protests, only to condemn last week’s storming of the US Capitol by a mob of supporters of President Donald Trump.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday hit back at statements of condemnation from Western governments over the arrests, while also singling out what she called hypocrisy in their approach to Hong Kong.
“We had rampant violence and riots undermining the safety of Hong Kong people, properties and businesses. Some overseas commentators or politicians were condoning or encouraging these activities under the guise of democracy,” she told reporters, referring to the 2019 social unrest.
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“But when the same things seemed to happen in their own country, they immediately took a very different approach to condemn the violence, and some said that this was verging on sedition in American society.”
Lam’s comments were in line with those of the Chinese foreign ministry, with spokeswoman Hua Chunying saying the US should reflect on why it adopted different positions on the two events.
Images of the pro-Trump crowd overrunning the Capitol – temporarily halting a hearing to confirm the victory of President-elect Joe Biden – have set off a wave of mockery in China, with mainland media widely echoing accusations of hypocrisy on the part of Washington.
Lam, meanwhile, declined to be drawn on the particulars of the recent mass opposition arrests under the Beijing-imposed national security law, but insisted that “Hong Kong is a society of the rule of law”.
“Everyone is equal before the law,” she said. “If some people believe that they can be immune from the law because of their political belief … that’s not the spirit of the rule of law.”
Last week, Hong Kong police arrested a total of 55 former opposition lawmakers and activists on suspicion of subversion over their involvement in an unofficial primary run-off last July to select candidates for the Legislative Council elections, which were subsequently postponed.
The arrests marked the largest crackdown under the national security law since it went into effect at the end of June, and prompted a joint statement from the United States, Canada, Britain and Australia accusing Beijing of using the legislation to silence dissent and stamp out opposing political views.
Authorities have said the opposition primary was part of a “35-plus” strategy, envisioned by legal scholar Benny Tai Yiu-ting, to win a Legco majority at the ballot box that would grant the pan-democratic camp decision-making power within the legislature – including the power to veto the government’s budget. The plan, they argued, amounted to a strategy to paralyse and “overthrow” the government.
Commissioner of Police Chris Tang Ping-keung said on Tuesday that the arrests were based on evidence, and that he believed more details would come to light should prosecution of the cases proceed.
At her press conference, Lam declined to address why police also arrested candidates who had expressed reservations about the 35-plus strategy, but did accuse Beijing’s opponents of waging a “smear campaign” against the national security law, which was imposed on the city by China’s top legislative body.
“I must say that the legislation is a Hong Kong law. We must follow and enforce this law, otherwise it would exist in vain,” Lam said.
She also appealed to the public to “leave room for the courts” to impartially uphold the law.
Sources have said police also recently invoked the national security law to block a local website – the first time they had done so – dedicated to publishing first-hand accounts of the 2019 anti-government protests and the personal details of officers and pro-Beijing figures.
Lam on Tuesday also touched on new regulations under the security law requiring government employees to swear allegiance to Hong Kong and pledge to uphold the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution
Responding to a question from the press, Lam suggested she would support amending the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance to cover more than 400 district councillors – most of whom are from the opposition camp following their landslide victory in local elections in 2019 – as well as members of the 1,200-strong Election Committee, which will pick the city’s leader next March.
Lam said under Article 104 of the Basic Law, the chief executive, principal officials, members of the Executive Council, lawmakers and judges must take an oath when assuming office. But Hong Kong’s law included a unified definition of the term “public officers”, she noted.
“The district councils are important bodies, while [the Election Committee] is even more important, as its members are responsible for electing the chief executive, so I think they should be seen as public officers and should take their oath in accordance with the national security law,” she said.
Lam added that the relevant legislative amendments would be presented in Legco when they were ready.