Wednesday, October 4, 2023

Protests in Hong Kong: the take of the Chinese government

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In the picture H.E. Ambassador Xu Hong.

In an open discussion with over twenty Dutch and Chinese journalists, China’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, H.E. Dr. Xu Hong, voiced his government’s stance on the ongoing protests in Hong Kong. The Ambassador condemned the violent actions of the demonstrators, calling for the expression of any dissent through legal channels.

Since June 2019, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) has been witnessing a strong wave of protests. At first, the demonstrators protested against a bill that would have allowed to extradite criminal suspects from Hong Kong to mainland China, voicing fears that such bill could be used by Beijing to target political opponents. While the incriminated bill has been withdrawn already in early September 2019, protests have now evolved into a broader anti-government movement, calling for democratic reforms, the release of people arrested during the protests, as well as an investigation into alleged police abuses committed during the demonstrations. 

Thousands of bombs Molotov prepared by Hong Kong Protesters found at the University of Hong Kong.

Meeting Chinese and Dutch journalist, China’s Ambassador to the Netherlands, H.E. Dr. Xu Hong, sought to counterbalance the narrative that tends to dominate the coverage of Hong Kong’s protests in Western media. In particular, the Ambassador complained about the partial coverage offered by these outlets – which he accused of disproportionately covering police actions against demonstrators while ignoring the protesters’ provocations vis-à-vis the police. “Some violent scenes […] are deliberately deleted by some foreign media and thus are not known to our foreign friends” – Dr. Xu Hong noted while showing a longer video of images taken during the unrest. 

The Ambassador accused the protesters of damaging property, provoking the police, and causing a significant deterioration to the economy of the Hong Kong region. By contrast, he widely praised the police – accused of abuses by the demonstrators – for its restraint in dealing with the unrest. “The Government of Hong Kong SAR has been dealing with the situation in the framework of the law” – the Ambassador continued, noting that “in the past six months, with so many violent activities [by the demonstrators], none of the demonstrators died as a result of police law enforcement actions”.

Chinese ambassador with colleagues during the press meeting.

During the press conferences, Dr. Xu Hong also sought to downplay some of the complaints voiced by the protesters. The Ambassador praised the Hong Kong Basic Law, the region’s so-called “mini-constitution”, noting that since its return to China under the “one country, two systems” policy, the Hong Kong region has enjoyed a good degree of protection of democracy and human rights – as proved by indicators such as the 2018 Human Freedom Index report. In this context, the Ambassador noted, if the demonstrators have legitimate goals, such goals “should be achieved by the rule of law, not by destroying the rule of law”. “Law is the core value of Hong Kong. If the rule of law is undermined, nothing will be completed” – he stressed.

The Chinese Ambassador also spent a few words on the recent District Council elections in Hong Kong. The latest elections, which took place on November 24th, 2019, saw an unprecedentedly large victory of the so-called “pro-democracy camp” – a victory interpreted by several analysts as a blow to Beijing. While clarifying that “District Council elections are internal affairs of Hong Kong itself”, Dr. Xu Hong confidently declared that no result could “change the reality” of the support enjoyed by the “one country, two systems” scheme among the majority of Hong Kongers.

Finally, Dr. Xu Hong touched upon the thorny issue of foreign interference in China’s Special Administrative Region. He noted that, to some of his friends in Hong Kong, “it is difficult to understand why those protesters are so rich” – noting as an “indisputable fact” that in Hong Kong “there are some foreign organizations and people working behind the scenes”. 

Ambassador Xu Hong.

In this context, the Ambassador openly criticized the United States for passing the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019 – a US federal law that imposes sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials allegedly responsible for human rights abuses in the SAR, and calls for a yearly revision of privileged US-Hong Kong relations in light of the SAR’s relation with mainland China. “The real purpose of passing such as act […] is definitely not to promote human rights and democracy in Hong Kong” – Dr. Xu Hong protested, blaming US lawmakers for failing to present proper evidence to back up their claims, as well as for unduly interfering in other countries’ domestic affairs. 

In a similar way, Ambassador Xu Hong sought to clarify his country’s position on the interpretation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration – the negotiated text that formalized Hong Kong’s return to China – and the recently voiced allegations on the United Kingdom’s potential right to monitor the situation in Hong Kong. This debate – the Ambassador complained – shows that some people’s thoughts “still stay in the colonial era more than 100 years ago”. “The time of interfering with China’s domestic affairs and infringing on our sovereignty […] has long gone” – he continued, stressing that in 1997 “China officially resumed total sovereignty over Hong Kong” and that “there is no space left for any foreign interference”. 

While the situation in Hong Kong remains tense, Ambassador Xu Hong voiced his hopes for a relaxation of tensions – hopes that are also shared by Dutch businesses active in the area. “I have talked with many Dutch companies which have branches in Hong Kong, they all expressed the willingness to see restoration of order in Hong Kong as soon as possible” – the Ambassador explained.

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