China Urges Hong Kong to Cut ‘Black Hands’ Influencing Students

(Bloomberg) -- One of China’s top agencies responsible for Hong Kong urged the city’s education departments to “cut off” the “black hands” influencing its school system, in response to students’ plans for a referendum vote to determine whether to strike against new national security legislation.

The Hong Kong Secondary School Students Action Platform, a group affiliated with the pro-democracy Demosisto party founded by prominent activist Joshua Wong, will hold a city-wide referendum June 20 to garner support for student and worker-led strikes. It comes as protests reignite amid China’s approval of the sweeping legislation for Hong Kong, a move that has raised questions about the city’s future autonomy from the mainland.

The referendum, previously scheduled for Sunday, was postponed Friday due to predicted stormy weather.

“Certain people are reaching out black hands to schools and minors and organizing so-called high school class boycott, using students as ‘ammunition’ and ‘tools’ in their attempt to stop the passage of the national security legislation,” the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a statement Friday. “Their motives are utterly sinister! Their acts are utterly despicable!”

China has repeatedly invoked the “black hands” phrase during the course of Hong Kong’s protest movement, using it to accuse the U.S. and foreign forces of fomenting the sometimes-violent unrest.

It also said Wong and Demosisto Chairman Isaac Cheng were adding to their “list of sins” by calling for the referendum. Wong, the city’s most prominent activist, served time in jail last year for his role in organizing 2014’s pro-democracy Occupy movement. It accused legislator Alvin Yeung, Occupy co-organizer and legal scholar Benny Tai and former opposition lawmaker Alan Leong of long encouraging and “glorifying illegal behavior” as a way to resolve problems.

Cheng said in a Facebook post later on Friday that organizers wouldn’t back down despite the pushback. “It shows the CCP is very concerned about the referendum, so we must participate to show our determination,” he said, referring to China’s ruling Communist Party.

Hong Kong’s government previously condemned the calls for a Sunday referendum vote and urged residents to disassociate themselves from organizations that use schools as a venue for expressing political demands, or “mislead” students into taking part in such “meaningless activities.”

China’s other top agency in the financial hub, its Liaison Office, released a separate statement Friday calling for Hong Kong authorities to “lead students on the right path” and for the establishment and improvement of an education system compatible with the “one country, two systems” principle by which Beijing governs the semi-autonomous city.

The Liaison Office last month accused protesters of jeopardizing the city’s future and called demonstrations “illegal activities,” the latest signal that it intended to take a more hands-on role in Hong Kong.

The HKMAO statement said the city’s education system must “eradicate all speech that incites Hong Kong independence and violence.”

Fueling Anger

Both statements come ahead of a key Legislative Council election scheduled for September, at which Hong Kong’s opposition -- which won a landslide victory in last November’s district elections -- is hoping to secure a majority that would give it the power to defeat proposals posed by Carrie Lam’s Beijing-backed government. Opposition politicians and activists have expressed concern that authorities will disqualify candidates who oppose the security legislation in the run-up to the vote.

The legislation is part of a pro-China agenda being pushed by Lam that has risked angering not just protesters but U.S. President Donald Trump. He said in the wake of the national security legislation’s passing that he would move to revoke some of Hong Kong’s special trading privileges, which underpin its status as an international business hub, and impose sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials “directly or indirectly involved” in eroding the city’s autonomy.

Months of pro-democracy demonstrations rocked the Asian financial hub last year, but were effectively halted for months due to the coronavirus pandemic.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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