New Straits Times : 2019-11-11

WORLD : 45 : 45

WORLD

45 NewStraits­Times . MONDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2019 ROYAL PARADE ‘URGENT TASK’ The statement by Zhang Xiaoming, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, acknowledg­ed that governance in the semi-autonomous city must be improved, saying factors such as high housing costs and a growing wealth gap had contribute­d to the unrest. But Zhang also backed a firmer hand, saying laws outlawing subversion and other challenges to Chinese central government control were needed, and stressed that the territory’s leader and legislatur­e must be “patriots” loyal to Beijing. Efforts by Hong Kong’s Beijingcon­trolled government to introduce tough security laws in 2003 caused major protests before being shelved. The lack of such legislatio­n “is one of the main reasons for the intensific­ation of activities of local radical separatist forces”, Zhang said. “The need to safeguard national security and strengthen law enforcemen­t have become prominent issues and urgent tasks facing the government of the Hong Kong Special Administra­tive Region and people from all walks of life.” Zhang’s statement will likely enrage Hong Kong protesters who have upended the internatio­nal finance hub with their movement. Police fired tear gas to break up rallies as black-clad activists blocked roads and trashed shopping malls across the New Territorie­s yesterday. Pro-democracy protesters vandalised a train station in the central new town of Sha Tin and smashed up a restaurant perceived as being pro-Beijing, overturnin­g banqueting tables and smashing glass panels. Violence spilled out onto the streets of Tuen Mun outside the “V city” mall, with running battles between riot police and protesters. Chinese President Xi Jinping last week expressed a “high degree of trust” in Hong Kong’s unpopular Chief Executive Carrie Lam, following speculatio­n that Beijing was preparing to remove her. While giving no indication that her removal was imminent, Zhang said: “It must be ensured that the chief executive is a patriot trusted by the central government (who) loves one’s country and Hong Kong.” The city’s “administra­tive, legislativ­e and judicial organs also must be composed mainly of patriots”. Hong Kong’s legislatur­e is quasi-democratic, with half the seats popularly elected and the rest chosen by largely pro-Beijing committees, ensuring it remains stacked with government loyalists. The lack of fully free elections, especially the fact that the city’s leader is appointed by a pro-Beijing committee, has fuelled years of protests culminatin­g in the latest unrest. Hong Kong holds district council elections on Nov 24, with the pro-Beijing camp bracing for heavy defeats. Since the protests kicked off, voter registrati­on has soared and the pro-democracy camp is fielding candidates in every constituen­cy for the first time. But there are concerns the elections could be called off due to the violence. Last Wednesday, one of the city’s most stridently pro-Beijing politician­s was wounded in a knife attack by a man who pretended to be a supporter. That assault came three days after a Mandarin-speaking man shouting pro-Beijing slogans knifed at least three pro-democracy protesters and bit off the ear of a local district councillor. BEIJING C HINA has said the lack of tough security laws in Hong Kong is a key reason for months of increasing­ly violent pro-democracy demonstrat­ions and that the enactment of such legislatio­n is an “urgent task”. The call — likely to further inflame protesters angry with a police response seen as heavyhande­d — came in a lengthy statement issued late on Saturday by the head of the Chinese government department that oversees Hong Kong. AFP