(CNSNews.com) – As U.S. lawmakers expressed support for Hong Kong residents’ protests against a proposed law allowing extradition to the communist-ruled mainland, Chinese officials and state media lashed out Wednesday at what they called outside interference in the country’s affairs.
Western critics were using the issue as a tool to bash China, they charged, accusing the U.S. of being behind the demonstrations.
Wednesday saw the second day of street protests in four days, this time marred by clashes between police and protestors near the territory’s Legislative Council complex.
President Trump marveled at the size of the protests, and expressed the hope that “it all works out for China and for Hong Kong.”
“I understand the reason for the demonstration, but I’m sure they’ll be able to work it out,” he said at the White House.
Beijing-backed Chief Executive Carrie Lam condemned the violence, and made clear her government would press on with the proposed extradition measure.
Lam insists that Hong Kong is not changing the law under pressure at Beijing’s behest.
Proponents of the proposed amendments say the territory should not be a haven for fugitives from justice, but critics charge that the judicial system in mainland China is far from independent, clearly serving the interests of the Communist Party.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a special “one country, two systems” model that promised the former British colony freedoms unheard of in the rest of China, for 50 years at least.
Its authorities responded to public unease by pledging that the agreement would not apply in cases where fugitives were wanted for political offenses.
But opposition persists, and Sunday saw the largest street protest in many years. Wednesday’s follow-up took place as the Legislative Council was scheduled to debate the bill further. Due to the clashes the session was postponed, and the government said early Thursday it would not be held on Thursday either.
U.S. congressional leaders came out strongly in support of the protestors, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell saying, “Hong Kong residents rightly view this measure as another erosion of the rule of law and tightening of Beijing’s grip on their imperiled autonomy.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called the extradition bill “horrific,” saying in a statement that it “chillingly showcases Beijing’s brazen willingness to trample over the law to silence dissent and stifle the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong.”
She warned that if the measure was enacted, the U.S. Congress would be obliged to reassess Hong Kong’s special trading status.
Among other things, that special status means trade between Hong Kong and the U.S. is not subject to the tariffs imposed by President Trump on trade between the U.S. and China.
Under the 1992 Hong Kong Policy Act, governing how the U.S. would treat Hong Kong after its return to Chinese rule, the president may issue an executive order suspending privileges enjoyed by the territory if he determines Hong Kong is not “sufficiently autonomous” from the mainland.
Other members of Congress from both parties voiced support for the protestors, warning the proposed law “would allow political dissidents, minorities, and foreign travelers in Hong Kong to be spirited away to China’s secret police on the mainland.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang at a press briefing Wednesday reacted to the criticism.
“Hong Kong affairs are purely China's internal affairs. No other country, organization or individual has the right to interfere,” he said. “China deplores and firmly opposes the irresponsible and erroneous comments on the amendment and other Hong Kong affairs made by the U.S. side.”
The state-run China Daily said in an editorial the bill’s critics were using it “to create a disturbance and tarnish the image of the government.”
“[T]he opposition camp and its foreign masters seem willing to oppose it for their own purposes at the expense of the city’s rule of law, public safety and justice,” it said.
The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times also painted the unrest as Western-inspired.
“These normal amendments to the extradition bill have been highly politicized, which the most radical opposition forces are taking advantage of, as are the Western forces behind them,” it said in an editorial, accusing opponents of the law of treating the people of Hong Kong “as cannon fodder.”
The Global Times railed against outside interference, citing statements by Pelosi and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen in support of the protestors.
“People like them hope Hong Kong can become a wedge with which they can confront the Chinese mainland,” it said. “Does Hong Kong's prosperity and welfare have anything to do with them?”
‘Keep on striking’
Hong Kong police accused protestors of starting a riot near the Legislative Council complex Wednesday, and of building barricades using bricks prised from the sidewalk and metal railings.
“Protesters repeatedly charged cordon lines and performed life threatening acts including setting fire and using sharpened iron poles and bricks to attack police officers at the scene,” the force said in a statement. “Police escalated the use of force after repeated warnings were ignored.”
Police used rubber bullets and teargas to quell the crowd. More than 70 people were treated in hospital for injuries, health authorities reported.
The Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), one of the main organizers of Sunday’s massive protest, accused police of using excessive force on Wednesday.
The RTHK public broadcaster quoted CHRF representative Avery Ng as saying it was “ludicrous” to describe the protest as a riot.
“If anything, any violence that happened today was incited and made by the police,” he said.
“As the Extradition Bill is still not withdrawn, our demonstration should continue,” CHRF said on its Facebook page. “We urge all Hong Kong people to keep on striking!”