Hong Kong Vows to Continue Security Push on Tense Anniversary

Hong Kong’s leader pledged to press ahead with an unprecedented national security crackdown, as the Asian financial center marked a series of fraught anniversaries symbolizing Beijing’s tightening grip over local affairs.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam in a Facebook post Wednesday vowed further action in the months ahead to amend laws, enforce loyalty oaths, police community organizations and promote patriotic education. She credited the national security law imposed by China a year ago Wednesday with getting “rid of the pervasive violence and social unrest that created anxiety” in the former British colony.

The city deployed some 10,000 police officers to discourage any protests Thursday -- the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party and the 24th anniversary of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule. The police warned people that they risked arrest by participating in unauthorized assemblies, after authorities earlier refused applications for peaceful protests, citing coronavirus concerns.

The anniversaries brought another in a series of milestones in President Xi Jinping’s effort to quiet dissent in the city, with Next Digital Ltd., the publisher of media tycoon Jimmy Lai’s defunct pro-democracy newspaper, announcing it would cease operations. In Washington, a bipartisan group of lawmakers on foreign affairs panels in Congress urged President Joe Biden in a letter to take action to address what they called China’s “ceaseless assault” on democracy in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong authorities were anxious to prevent unrest while Xi marked the party’s centennial in Beijing with a pageant designed to demonstrate China’s return to wealth and power. The last time Xi held such an event -- in October 2019, the 70th anniversary of the party’s rule -- Hong Kong erupted in some of the most violent protests it had seen in decades.

With Lam in Beijing to participate in party celebrations, newly installed Chief Secretary John Lee took her place in annual flag-raising ceremonies in Hong Kong. The veteran police officer was appointed to the city’s No. 2 role last week after leading the campaign against Lai’s Apple Daily newspaper.

Chinese authorities have credited the security law with bringing stability back to Hong Kong after the city was rocked by protests up until the pandemic began. The legislation, which bans subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign powers and carries sentences as long as life in prison, has led to the arrest of 117 activists, journalists and former lawmakers.

Still, there were signs of simmering discontent. Hong Kong police said in a tweet Thursday that flammable objects were thrown at the Government House, the traditional residence of the city’s leaders. “The Police strongly condemn such blatant acts and will bring criminals to justice,” the police said.

At the same time, Hong Kong has used coronavirus measures to all-but ban the street protests that had long been the opposition’s most effective means of influencing public policy. On Wednesday, police re-arrested an activist-lawyer representing three civic groups that had unsuccessfully applied for a permit to hold a rally Thursday.

Chow Hang Tung was formally charged on allegations she had promoted a vigil in June commemorating China’s military crackdown on Tiananmen Square, police told reporters late Wednesday. Her bail in that case was revoked after investigators suspected she was encouraging people to attend unauthorized assemblies Thursday, police said.

Chow has accused the government of overstating coronavirus concerns to quash public displays of dissent. “Protests go on around the world everyday despite Covid, but not a single protest has ever been approved by the Hong Kong police since Covid began,” Chow said before her arrest.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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