Hong Kong leader tries to dispel fears about China’s move to impose national security legislation on the city.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday urged opponents of Beijing’s plan to impose national security legislation in the financial hub to stop “smearing” the effort, labelling those who were critical of the legislation “the enemy of the people”.
Beijing plans to impose the legislation in the semi-autonomous territory as a means to tackle what it labels secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.
Critics see it as an existential threat to the “one country, two systems” framework that was agreed when the British returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997.
The Chinese government and Lam’s Beijing-backed city administration say the law will not curtail freedoms but will target a small number of “troublemakers” and help bring stability after a year of anti-government protests.
“I urge opponents who still use the usual tactics to demonise and smear the work to stop, because by doing this they become the enemy of the Hong Kong people,” Lam said before a cabinet meeting, referring to the legislation.
“The vast majority want to restore stability and have safety, satisfaction and employment.”
Lam was speaking a year to the day since Hong Kong’s biggest-ever demonstration, when about 2 million people, according to organisers, marched against a now-withdrawn extradition bill that would have allowed people to be sent for trial in mainland China.
Critics saw that bill as a threat to the city’s judicial independence, and the protests continued even after it was withdrawn, broadening into a campaign for greater democracy.
This year, the coronavirus outbreak brought a lull in protests, but they have resumed since Beijing announced the plan for the security law.
Details of the legislation have not been announced, but it has been widely criticised, not only by democracy activists but by diplomats, lawyers and business leaders who also fear it could erode rights and freedoms.
Lam also said the government was considering relaxing restrictions aimed at stopping the coronavirus, but it was unlikely they would be completely scrapped.
Hong Kong’s borders are almost fully closed and gatherings are limited to eight people, although life is slowly returning to normal.
The rules have helped limit numbers at demonstrations, with police citing the coronavirus in rejecting applications for rallies.