Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam on Tuesday urged opponents of Beijing’s plan to impose national security legislation in the financial hub to stop “smearing” the effort, saying those who did were “the enemy of the people”.
Beijing last month announced a plan to introduce legislation in Hong Kong to tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.
Critics see it as the most serious threat to a “one country, two systems” formula, agreed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997, aimed at ensuring its freedoms and role as a global financial centre.
The Chinese government and Lam’s Beijing-backed city administration say the law will not curtail freedoms but will target a small number of “troublemakers” and help bring stability after a year of anti-government protests.
“I urge opponents who still use the usual tactics to demonize and smear the work to stop because by doing this they become the enemy of the Hong Kong people,” Lam said before a cabinet meeting, referring to the legislation.
“The vast majority want to restore stability, and have safety, satisfaction and employment.”
Lam was speaking a year after Hong Kong’s biggest ever demonstration, when about 2 million people, according to organisers, marched against another bill the city wanted to introduce that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.
Critics saw that bill as a threat to judicial independence and though it was later withdrawn, protests broadened into a campaign for greater democracy and clashes with police intensified.
This year, the coronavirus outbreak brought a lull in protests but they have resumed since Beijing announced the plan for the security law.
Details have not been announced but it has been widely criticised, not only by democracy activists but by diplomats, lawyers and business leaders who also fear it could erode rights and freedoms.
Lam also said the government was considering relaxing restrictions aimed at stopping the coronavirus but it was unlikely they would be completely scrapped.
Hong Kong’s borders are almost fully closed and groups are limited to eight people although life is returning to normal.
The rules have helped limit numbers at demonstrations, with police citing the coronavirus in rejecting applications for rallies.
(Writing by Marius Zaharia Editing by Shri Navaratnam, Robert Birsel)