FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, wearing a face mask following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, attends a news conference with officers over Beijing’s plans to impose national security legislation in Hong Kong, China May 22, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
May 23, 2020
By Clare Jim and James Pomfret
HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry branch in Hong Kong hit back on Saturday at “meddling” countries and said proposed national security laws would not harm the interests of foreign investors in the city.
The security legislation, which could see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in Hong Kong, has sent chills through the business and diplomatic communities.
U.S. government officials have said the legislation would end the Chinese-ruled city’s autonomy and would be bad for both Hong Kong’s and China’s economies. They said it could jeopardise the territory’s special status in U.S. law, which has helped it maintain its position as a global financial centre.
Britain has said it is deeply concerned by the proposed security laws which it said would undermine the “one country, two systems” principle agreed when Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Bankers and headhunters said it could lead to money and talent leaving the city. Hong Kong stocks slumped 5.6% on Friday.
A spokesperson of the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China in Hong Kong said in a statement the city’s high degree of autonomy “will remain unchanged, and the interests of foreign investors in the city will continue to be protected under the law.”
Beijing’s move comes after pro-democracy protests in 2019 plunged Hong Kong into its biggest political crisis since the handover. Communist authorities see the protests as a security threat and blame the West for fomenting unrest.
The commissioner’s office described statements by “meddling countries” as “double standard and gangster logic.”
“No matter how venomously you smear, provoke, coerce or blackmail us, the Chinese people will remain rock-firm in safeguarding national sovereignty and security,” it said.
“Doomed is your plot to undermine China’s sovereignty and security by exploiting the troublemakers in Hong Kong as pawns and the city as a frontier for secession, subversion, infiltration and sabotage activities against China.”
Chris Patten, the last governor of the former British colony, said China has betrayed the people of Hong Kong and the West should stop kowtowing to Beijing for an illusory great pot of gold.
Over the past 24 hours, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing politicians have also responded to concerns that the national security legislation could take the shine off China’s freest and most international city.
Upon her return from Beijing late on Friday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said the stock market “goes up and comes down” and it was in fact the protests which had destabilised the business environment.
Henry Tang, a member of the Standing Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, said the legislation was “beneficial” for business as it brings stability and strengthens the rule of law.
Former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-Ying pointed to large U.S. investments in mainland China despite national security laws there.
“Can businessmen tell Hong Kong people, why are there more U.S. companies, U.S. businessmen and U.S. investments in mainland China than Hong Kong?” he wrote in a Facebook post.
Hong Kong publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai, an outspoken critic of Beijing who faces charges of illegal assembly, said on Twitter the legislation would bring the end of “China’s last miracle” and the communist party was slaughtering “the proverbial golden goose.”
Dozens of protesters gathered in a downtown shopping mall, on Saturday holding banners with slogans against national security legislation. As activists called for protests on Sunday in central Hong Kong, police said in a statement it “will deploy adequate manpower in relevant locations.”
(Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Ros Russell)