Tensions between the two countries over trade, human rights and the handling of the pandemic are soaring. US President Donald Trump is leading world criticism of Beijing’s initial response to COVID-19–a force that’s killed more than 330,000 people and destroyed the world economies.
Meanwhile, pressure is rising within China, as thousands of Hong Kong protesters are re-emerging after months of coronavirus restrictions. They are resuming their year-long campaign that began against the now-dropped bill that would have allowed people to be expatriated for trial in the mainland. Their demands grew to investigations into police brutality and the release of arrested protesters.
China’s Hong Kong Affairs office on Wednesday, aused the term “political virus” against the protesters, describing them as a violent, “demented force” who are insisting on independence for Hong Kong.
Thousands of riot police flooded the streets, using pepper balls to stop the newest planned demonstrations. Hong Kong police have arrested at least 360 protesters, including some of the territory’s most prominent democracy campaigners. Schoolchildren were among those detained in Mongkok, while at least 180 were arrested in Causeway Bay for unauthorized gatherings.
Protesters are fueled with urgency to halt a law criminalizing ridicule of China’s national anthem. “We want real democracy,” shouted protesters. “Hong Kong independence; it’s the only way.”
They are also fighting Beijing’s plans to rush a sweeping anti-sedition law on Hong Kong. It’s expected to be approved Thursday by the National People’s Congress (NPC)–bypassing Hong Kong’s own legislature.
The NPC’s forcing of the new law banning subversion, separatism, and acts of foreign interference, would allow Beijing to install “national security agencies” in Hong Kong.
Critics and legal observers, including the Hong Kong Coalition, say it’s one of the most blatant violations of the “one country, two systems” agreement–the agreed framework when Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997–that should allow for freedoms not seen in the mainland.
Cheung, a 73-year-old woman, told The Guardian that when she was 15, she swam to Hong Kong from mainland China to “escape the dictatorial rule of the CCP [Chinese Communist Party]”.
“The Communist party is not trustworthy,” she said. “When they say you’re guilty then you’re guilty. Is there still ‘one country, two systems’? Of course we need to fight.”
China’s proposed law has attracted criticism worldwide. US secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, on Wednesday notified Congress that the Trump administration no longer regards Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China.
Legislation passed last year by Donald Trump requires the US to revoke favorable trade and financial status granted to Hong Kong.
“It looks like, with this national security law, they’re going to basically take over Hong Kong,” said White House national security adviser Robert O’Brien, according to NBC.
O’Brien says Hong Kong’s success as a hub of business and finance would also suffer, as global corporations would have no reason to stay. Last week, the news sent Hong Kong’s main stock index down 5.6%.
Beijing, as usual, is hitting back–aiming at the U.S.
“It is time for the US to give up its wishful thinking of changing China or stopping 1.4 billion people’s historical march toward modernization,” said Wang.
The commander of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army garrison in Hong Kong says his troops–estimated to number around 10,000–stand ready to “safeguard” China’s national security.
Taiwan’s president, Tsai Ing-wen, has said her government would help Hong Kong residents fearing for their safety under the new law, to relocate to Taiwan.
Several days have been set aside in the Hong Kong legislature for debate on the anthem law. Voting is scheduled for June 4–the anniversary of the Tiananmen Square.