HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police fired tear gas and a water cannon at protesters in a popular shopping district on Sunday, as thousands took to the streets to march against China’s proposed tough national security legislation for the city.
Pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong have sharply criticized the proposal last week to enact a national security law that would ban secessionist and subversive activity, as well as foreign interference, in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory. Critics say it goes against the “one country, two systems” framework that promises the city freedoms not found in mainland China.
Crowds of demonstrators dressed in black gathered Sunday afternoon in Hong Kong’s Causeway Bay district to protest the proposed legislation. Protesters chanted slogans including “Stand with Hong Kong,” “Liberate Hong Kong” and “Revolution of our times.”
The protest was a continuation of a monthslong pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong that began last year and has at times descended into violence between police and protesters.
Police raised blue flags, warning protesters to disperse, before firing multiple rounds of tear gas. They later fired a water cannon at the protesters.
At least 120 people were arrested, mostly on charges of unlawful assembly, police said in a Facebook post.
They also said in a separate post that protesters threw bricks and splashed unidentified liquid at officers, injuring at least four members of the police’s media liaison team. They warned that such behavior is against the law and that police would pursue the matter.
Earlier in the afternoon, prominent activist Tam Tak-chi was arrested during the protest for what police said was unauthorized assembly. Tam said he was giving a “health talk” and was exempt from social-distancing measures that prohibit gatherings of more than eight people.
The bill that triggered Sunday’s rally was submitted at China’s national legislative session on Friday and is expected to be passed on May 28. It would bypass Hong Kong’s legislature and allow the city’s government to set up mainland agencies in the city that would make it possible for Chinese agents to arbitrarily arrest people for activities deemed to be pro-democracy.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has called the move “a death knell for the high degree of autonomy” that Beijing promised the former British colony when it was returned to China in 1997.
The erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms prompted Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong prior to its handover to China, to condemn what he called “a new Chinese dictatorship.”
“I think the Hong Kong people have been betrayed by China, which has proved once again that you can’t trust it further than you can throw it,” Patten said in an interview with The Times of London.
Bernard Chan, a top-level Hong Kong politician and delegate to the National People’s Congress in Beijing, defended the national security legislation pushed by China, saying it was written into Hong Kong’s Basic Law — the city’s mini-constitution — but never enacted.
Chan expressed concern that Hong Kong would inevitably face economic hardship given trade frictions between the U.S. and China.
“I think we are definitely the collateral damage being dragged into this thing. But then, I don’t think there’s any alternatives,” Chan said.
“But with or without this law, honestly, the U.S. and China are always going to be continuing this loggerhead for quite some time to come,” he said. “China will remain as a threat to the U.S. in terms of the … world economic dominance.”