Hong Kong and Beijing officials defend security laws, citing threat of terrorism

Xie Feng, commissioner of China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, holds a briefing on the proposed national security legislation in Hong Kong, China May 25, 2020. REUTERS/James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) – China’s foreign ministry office in Hong Kong and the city’s security chief on Monday defended proposed national security laws by describing some acts in mass pro-democracy protests last year as terrorism.

Several government departments issued statements in defence of the proposal after the biggest protest in the city since the coronavirus lockdown on Sunday.

The security legislation, some details of which were announced last week, aims to tackle secession, subversion and terrorist activities and could see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in semi-autonomous Hong Kong, one of the world’s leading financial hubs.

Pro-democracy activists and politicians say the legislation could erode Hong Kong’s freedoms, guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement under which former colonial power Britain returned the territory to China in 1997.

At a briefing for diplomats, foreign business chambers and correspondents, China’s Foreign Commissioner in Hong Kong, Xie Feng, said the laws would only target a minority of “troublemakers” who had posed “imminent danger” to China’s national security.

“The legislation will alleviate the grave concerns among local and foreign business communities about the violent and terrorist forces,” Xie said.

He declined to clarify specifics of the proposed laws that have stoked concerns, including when the full legislation would be enacted, what specific acts would be outlawed, and whether it would have retroactive effect.

Asked whether the security agencies to be set up in Hong Kong would have law enforcement powers, Xie said: “Concerning the details, they are still being deliberated so I’m not in a position to tell you right now.”

Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials have come out in recent days seeking to reassure investors their interests would not be harmed and criticisng protesters.

Police Commissioner Chris Tang cited 14 cases involving explosives which he said were commonly used in terrorist attacks overseas, and five seizures of firearms and ammunition since protests began.

Secretary for Security John Lee said “terrorism is growing” and harmful activities such as calling for Hong Kong’s independence were becoming more rampant.

In scenes evoking memories of last year’s protests, crowds thronged city streets on Sunday, many chanting “Hong Kong independence, the only way out.”

Police said they arrested more than 180 people, firing tear gas and water cannon for the first time in months.

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