Police Deploy Water Cannon as Violence Returns: Hong Kong Update
Riot police charge at demonstrators during a protest against a planned national security law in the Wan Chai district in Hong Kong, China. (Photographer: May James/Bloomberg)

Police Deploy Water Cannon as Violence Returns: Hong Kong Update

(Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong police deployed a water cannon and fired tear gas as violence returned to the city’s streets with hundreds of protesters marching against China’s plans to impose a sweeping national security law.

A heavy police presence prevented activists from proceeding with the unauthorized march from Causeway Bay to Wan Chai. Demonstrators scattered after the main group was broken up, burning barricades and blocking streets. More than 120 people were arrested, the police said in a post on their Facebook page.

Police Deploy Water Cannon as Violence Returns: Hong Kong Update

China said it will introduce a law to prevent and punish any acts of secession, subversion or terrorism in the city that threaten national security. Pro-democracy activists say the move endangers the future of “one country, two systems,” the principle by which the Asian financial hub is overseen by Beijing since the handover from Britain in 1997.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the city would cooperate fully with Beijing to enact the legislation. Her comments are likely to anger demonstrators and fuel protests that have returned in recent weeks following a lull because of the coronavirus outbreak. The city was wracked by often-violent demonstrations in the second half of last year, sparked by the government’s proposal to introduce a law allowing extradition to jurisdictions including China.

Key Developments:

  • Police deploy water cannon, fire tear gas to disperse marchers
  • Hong Kong officials defend proposed legislation
  • Group of politicians from 23 countries condemns law
  • Police warn of arrests for unauthorized marches
  • Pompeo condemns China’s plan to impose legislation
  • China says no country has right to interfere in Hong Kong

Here’s the latest (all times local):

Law More Damaging Than Extradition Bill: Wong (3.30 p.m.)

Joshua Wong, one of the city’s most prominent activists, said more than 1,000 Hongkongers joined the march, which showed they are willing to fight back.

Police Deploy Water Cannon as Violence Returns: Hong Kong Update

“The national security law is even more damaging and harmful than the extradition bill last year,” he said at the march. “And now when time is running out in Hong Kong, we would describe it as the beginning of the end ... we don’t have enough time but we still need to continue the fight.”

Protesters Defy Police Warning in March to Wan Chai (1 p.m.)

Police fired tear gas at protesters for the first time in about two months as hundreds of activists defied warnings and marched through the city in what they called an anti-evil law demonstration.

Police warned the crowd they were taking part in an illegal gathering and said in a statement that “rioters threw umbrellas, water bottles and other objects at them.” The police usage of tear gas appears to be the first such instance of the tactic since clashes in Yuen Long in late March.

At least four police media-liaison officers were injured when protesters threw stones and other objects at them, police said in a Facebook post.

Police Deploy Water Cannon as Violence Returns: Hong Kong Update

Senior City Officials Try To Reassure on Law (10 a.m.)

Senior Hong Kong officials defended China’s plan to enact the law, with Financial Secretary Paul Chan saying it will help quell ongoing political unrest in the city, the main threat to confidence in the financial sector.

“The freedom and rights enjoyed by the general public according to law are not interfered with, daily life will not be affected, and property security will continue to be effectively guaranteed,” Chan wrote in a Chinese-language post on his official website.

In a separate post, Chief Secretary for Administration Matthew Cheung said on his website that the new legislation does not affect the principle of one country, two systems, in place since the 1997 handover. The city must ensure that the business investment environment is stable, Cheung wrote in the Chinese-language blog. “Social turmoil is the enemy of peace and happiness and investors,” he said.

Global Group of Politicians Condemns Law (6 a.m.)

Almost 200 politicians and legislators from 23 countries issued a joint statement criticizing Beijing’s plan.

A group of 199 legislators and prominent former politicians from 23 countries said in a joint statement that the principle of “one country, two systems” is hanging by a thread in Hong Kong and described the proposed security law as a “comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law, and fundamental freedoms,” Radio and Television Hong Kong reported.

Signatories included Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, Chris Patten, and former British foreign secretary Malcolm Rifkind, as well as five U.S. senators, and lawmakers from Europe, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, New Zealand, Canada and Australia, according to the report.

The group warned that China’s plan could spark more protests in the city, The protests are driven by “the genuine grievances of ordinary Hongkongers” and harsh laws will only escalate the situation, the group said in the statement on Sunday.

Hong Kongers Won’t be Whisked Over Border, Official Says (2 p.m)

The new security legislation won’t be used to whisk people over the border to China, Maria Tam, vice chairwoman of the Chinese parliamentary committee that oversees Hong Kong’s law, said in an interview.

Tam acknowledged that some details of the sweeping legislation expected to soon be passed by the National People’s Congress had yet to be decided.

“The Hong Kong opposition has always reaped the benefit of striking fear in the minds of the Hong Kong people and asking them not to trust China,” Tam said by phone. “And so this is political capital, and I would be surprised if they don’t cash in on it. But I don’t think it’s going to happen that way.”

Read more:

Police Warn of Unauthorized Marches (2:50 p.m.)

Officers will be deployed around Hong Kong on Sunday at locations where unauthorized marches are due to take place and will arrest demonstrators if necessary, according to a post on the police Facebook page.

The police urged residents not to take part in gatherings that are not approved, according to the post.

They also warned that anyone who gathers in groups of more than eight would violate the city’s social-distancing measures, which pro-democracy advocates have complained are suppressing lawful protests.

Police Deploy Water Cannon as Violence Returns: Hong Kong Update

China Tries To Reassure City Officials (12:35 p.m.)

China tried to ease fears over the proposed legislation in a meeting between central government officials and city representatives, Radio Television Hong Kong reported, citing attendees.

Vice Premier Han Zheng said at the meeting in Beijing that Beijing hoped to ensure the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong people were protected and maintained, RTHK said, citing local Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference member Thomas So. There would be a consultation process, the news agency quoted him as saying.

Law Is ‘Anti-Virus’ Software for City: People’s Daily (Saturday 7:35 a.m.)

China’s proposed security law for Hong Kong was “anti-virus software” for the city to enhance law and order, and to build a stable foundation for the principle of one country, two systems, the Communist Party-owned People’s Daily said in an online commentary on Saturday.

The anti-extradition bill movement responsible for protests in the city was the cause of the National People’s Congress introducing the security-law legislation, it said.

U.K. Australia, Canada Foreign Ministers Express Concern (11:45 p.m.)

“Making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary would clearly undermine the principle of ‘one country, two systems’, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy,” according to joint statement from U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne and Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne.

The U.K., Australia and Canada are “deeply concerned” at China’s proposals for introducing the legislation.

Hassett Warns of Capital Flight if Laws Enacted (10:39 a.m.)

White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett called China’s move “very unacceptable to the U.S. government” and predicted it would backfire on Beijing.

“They’re going to see a lot of economic harm from what they’re doing, because if I had capital to invest, would you really want to invest it in a place where they’re basically, you know, sneering at the rule of law the way they are right now?” he said Friday in an interview on Fox Business Network.

“I would expect that they’re going to have serious capital flight problems in Hong Kong, if they follow through this, they will no longer be the financial center of Asia, and that they themselves will pay very, very heavy costs,” he added.

China Must Respect Hong Kong’s Freedoms, U.K. Says (9:23 p.m.)

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman said the British government wants to clarify exactly what China has proposed -- but warned it expects Beijing to respect the autonomy Hong Kong is due.

“We expect China to respect Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms and high degree of autonomy,” Johnson’s spokesman James Slack told reporters. The U.K. remains committed to upholding Hong Kong’s autonomy under the joint declaration, Slack said.

The U.K. has previously said there will need to be a reassessment of relations with China in the aftermath of the coronavirus outbreak. On Friday, the government unveiled a plan to diversify supply chains, potentially reducing Britain’s reliance on China for some medical materials.

U.S. Condemns China’s Plan To Impose Legislation on Hong Kong (8:30 p.m.)

The U.S. condemns China’s “proposal to unilaterally and arbitrarily impose national security legislation on Hong Kong,” Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in an emailed statement. “The United States strongly urges Beijing to reconsider its disastrous proposal.”

“The decision to bypass Hong Kong’s well-established legislative processes and ignore the will of the people of Hong Kong would be a death knell for the high degree of autonomy Beijing promised for Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN-filed agreement,” the statement said.

President Donald Trump had earlier warned that the U.S. would respond to the planned move in Beijing, amid escalating tensions between the two powers. “I don’t know what it is because nobody knows yet,” he told reporters at the White House about the possible Chinese actions. “If it happens, we’ll address that issue very strongly.”

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