China Accuses US of 'Undermining Stability' as Vigil Organizers Consider Disbanding

The ruling Chinese Communist Party underscores its claim that Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests were fomented by foreign powers.
By Gigi Lee, Cheng Yut Yiu and Chan Yun Nam
2021.09.24
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China Accuses US of 'Undermining Stability' as Vigil Organizers Consider Disbanding Chow Hang-tung, a member of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China, speaks to reporters at the June 4th Museum in Hong Kong in a Sept. 5, 2021 photo.
AFP

China on Friday accused the United States of trying to undermine stability in Hong Kong, as the organizers of a now-banned candlelight vigil marking the Tiananmen massacre considered whether to disband when the group meets at the weekend.

The Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China stands accused of acting as the agent of a foreign power, with leaders Chow Hang-tung, Albert Ho, and Lee Cheuk-yan arrested on suspicion of "incitement to subvert state power," and the group's assets frozen.

Chow was arrested on Sept. 8 and denied bail, while Lee and Ho are already serving jail terms linked to their activism, while four other Alliance members, Tang Ngok-kwan, 53, Simon Leung, 36, Chan To-wai, 57, and Tsui Hon-kwong, 72, have been charged with "failure to comply with a notice to provide information."

In letters to members from jail, Ho and Lee called on the group to consider the safety of its members and partners.

"Dear friends," the identical letters dated Sept. 17 and 18 read. "We believe that the best way forward is for the Alliance to disband on its own initiative, given the current climate."

"We understand that the Alliance will hold an extraordinary general meeting on Sept. 25 to decide on this matter," the two letter said. "We publicly call on all Alliance members to support its dissolution."

Chow disagreed, saying she would prefer to "hang on until the bitter end," even if it meant risking a longer prison term.

She said in a Facebook post on Sept. 23 that she had been warned by a pro-CCP informant that she could face more serious consequences if the group didn't disband, although dissolution didn't mean it wouldn't face further persecution by the authorities.

China on Friday accused the United States of trying to destabilize Hong Kong by meeting with democracy campaigners, sanctioning Hong Kong and Chinese officials linked to police violence and a "national security" crackdown on dissent, and burning electronic candles on the anniversary of the June 4, 1989 massacre.

Listing dozens of meetings with pro-democracy figures including Democratic Party co-founder Martin Lee, former colonial-era chief secretary Anson Chan, and Umbrella Movement student leader Joshua Wong dating back to March 2019, China's foreign ministry said the U.S. had "colluded with those who are opposed to China and attempt to destabilize Hong Kong."

The list also cited every piece of U.S. legislation passed to support and assist Hong Kong protesters, including the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act of 2019, and the Hong Kong Autonomy Act, as well as then President Donald Trump's Executive Order 13936 on Hong Kong Normalization, which suspended the city's preferential treatment as a free port on the grounds that it could no longer be considered a separate jurisdiction from the rest of China.

It quoted Trump as saying on Oct. 7, 2019 that Hongkongers "are flying the American flag," and referring to the protesters as "the great people over there," along with the sanctioning of dozens of high-ranking Hong Kong and Chinese officials, including Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, over the violent treatment of protesters during the 2019 anti-extradition movement and over the implementation of the national security law.

'Meddling, interfering'

The U.S.' vocal support for the now-shuttered pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper and its jailed founder Jimmy Lai was also cited as evidence of "meddling in Hong Kong affairs and wantonly interfering in China's internal affairs," according to the 100-item list posted on the ministry of foreign affairs website.

It also cited official U.S. commemoration of the Tiananmen massacre by the People's Liberation Army (PLA), which ended weeks of student-led protests on Tiananmen Square.

"On June 4, 2021, the U.S. Consulate General in Hong Kong lit up electric candles inside its the office window in support of the so-called candlelight vigil staged by those who are opposed to China and attempt to destabilize Hong Kong," the list said.

The action was listed under "making unfounded charges against ... law enforcement actions taken by Hong Kong police in an attempt to undermine Hong Kong's prosperity and stability."

The list also cited a ban on U.S. exports of police equipment to Hong Kong, including tear gas, pepper spray, rubber bullets, and stun guns, as well as an export ban on dual-use high-tech products to Hong Kong.

The accusations come as Hong Kong police targeted dozens of civil society groups, journalists, rights activists, and protesters under a draconian national security law imposed on the city by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from July 1, 2020.

The law forms part of Beijing's claims that recent waves of popular protest for greater democracy and against the erosion of Hong Kong's promised freedoms were instigated by hostile foreign powers intent on undermining CCP rule and destroying social stability in Hong Kong.

Jimmy Lai and several senior journalists at the now-defunct Apple Daily face charges of "collusion with foreign forces" under the law, after the paper called in editorials for sanctions against Chinese and Hong Kong officials.

China's list cited a July 7-11, 2019 visit by Lai to Washington, where he met with then vice president Mike Pence, then secretary of state Mike Pompeo, and other Trump officials.

"Jimmy Lai lobbied for U.S. intervention in Hong Kong affairs, and discussed with the U.S. side developments in Hong Kong surrounding the amendment bill and the so-called "autonomous status of Hong Kong", for which he received positive response from the U.S. side," it said.

Subversion charges

Friday's list cited a July 14, 2020 statement by Pompeo supporting a democratic primary that led to "subversion" charges for 47 participants under the national security law, because it tried to maximize the number of pro-democracy candidates winning seats in Hong Kong's legislature.

It also listed a July 31, 2020 statement by then White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany voicing Washington's opposition to the disqualification of opposition candidates from running for election in Hong Kong.

Joseph Cheng, former politics lecturer at Hong Kong's City University, said the list could mean more sanctions are in the pipeline against U.S. individuals and organizations.

"Their criticism of U.S. support for democracy is that it interferes in the internal affairs of other countries," Cheng said. "This list can be used to support further sanctions against U.S. enterprises or political figures."

He said it would also likely be used as evidence in cases brought under the national security law.

"The list shows that Beijing ... regards the charges and suppression of civil society groups and the pro-democracy camp in Hong Kong as justified because they are in cahoots with foreign powers," Cheng said.

"This list could also form part of the evidence they bring against these groups and individuals [in court]."

Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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