HONG KONG: THE BEIJING VIEW
China’s ambassador blames Hong Kong pro-democracy riots on US and the West
Yet Hong Kong’s recent elections showed a large majority of Hong Kong’s citizens support the demonstrators.
China’s ambassador to South Africa has laid the blame for six months of rioting in Hong Kong squarely on the United States and other Western powers, accusing them of instigating and financing the violent demonstrations by pro-democracy protestors which have rocked Hong Kong. Ambassador Lin Songtian also accused Western forces of instigating ethnic separatists, religious extremists and violent terrorists to conduct thousands of violent terrorist attacks in China’s Muslim-majority far-western province of Xinjiang.
Lin let rip at the US and other Western powers in a press briefing at the Chinese embassy in Pretoria on Thursday, 12 December. The US and other Western politicians and media had shown their “evil intention” by glorifying the rioters in Hong Kong as “peaceful demonstrators” and “democratic protesters”, he said.
In reality, these were not “pro-democracy” demonstrations but “aggressive, illegal, violent terrorist acts… masterminded, financed and instigated by the anti-China forces in some Western countries led by the US,” said Lin.
The aim of the US and the West was to provoke China into over-reaction, so sanctions and other measures could be taken against Beijing to “contain” the rise of China, he said.
However, Lin was asked how his interpretation tallied with the results of Hong Kong’s 24 November 2019 District Council elections – which were widely perceived as an implicit referendum on the protests – where the pro-democracy camp won 17 of the 18 District Councils, tripling its seats from around 124 to about 388. The pro-Beijing parties won only 62 seats, a huge loss of 242 seats.
If the protests were entirely the work of US and other Western instigators, why did so many ordinary Hong Kong citizens vote for the pro-democracy protests?
Lin refused to accept that a majority of Hong Kong’s people had supported the protests, but acknowledged the protests were “large-scale”. If the protestors had come to government offices to hand over their demands, the Hong Kong authorities would have dealt with them, he said. But it would not address demands delivered by “illegal acts of terrorism” and vandalism.
“It’s not the majority of the Hong Kong people,” he insisted. “Those people in the street, compared to seven million people, in the street is a large-scale but not the majority of the people. They cannot speak on behalf of the Hong Kong people.
“So that the voice should be heard loudly and clearly, we got the message. But that was not the point; to stay in the streets, to occupy campuses, to assault people for more than six months, and it will continue. Without the financial support and the political support from someone outside Hong Kong, I challenge them, where is the money to finance them? Some people pay them to go to the street. That’s the evil intention.”
Lin suggested that the US and the West were afraid of China because of its rapid development over the last 40 years, even though they had benefitted from it, especially when China maintained global growth through the 2008 financial and economic crisis.
The demonstrations began as protests against the Hong Kong government’s proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance (which would have allowed Hong Kong to move fugitives to mainland China).
But the demonstrations had “escalated to lasting violence. Large-scale illegal, violent crimes have seriously undermined the stability, prosperity and the rule of law in Hong Kong, threatened Hong Kong people’s life, production and safety, and severely challenged the bottom line of the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, plunging Hong Kong into a very dangerous situation,” said Lin.
The “One Country, Two Systems” principle was introduced in Hong Kong in 1997 when Britain returned it to China after a century of colonial rule. The principle gives Hong Kong some autonomy from China – with some democratic institutions – though it remains part of the Chinese state. However, many citizens of Hong Kong fear Beijing is steadily trying to absorb Hong Kong fully into China. This fear sparked the protests six months ago when the Beijing-backed Hong Kong government tried to introduce the extradition legislation. It was subsequently withdrawn.
Lin said the demonstrators were not pro-democracy protestors, but “violent criminals,” wearing masks and bearing US and UK flags as they attacked government buildings, threw petrol bombs into subway carriages, vandalised and paralysed public transportation such as airports, subways and roads, and assaulted students.
Lin said the violence had seriously undermined Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, lowering its GDP growth rate to minus 2.9% in the third quarter of 2019 and its estimated growth rate for the whole year to minus 1.3%. Hong Kong’s international ratings had been downgraded, and its international image and business environment severely impacted. It was now the “laughing stock” of the international community.
Yet, Lin insisted that Beijing had fully implemented the principles of “One Country, Two Systems”, allowing Hong Kong “a high degree of autonomy” with “more democratic rights and freedoms than at any time during the colonial period”.
Despite US and Western support for the protests, Beijing would not be provoked, but nor would it give in to the demands of the demonstrators or foreign powers, he suggested. It would continue to support the Hong Kong government to govern Hong Kong in accordance with the law.
“The root cause of the lasting violence and riots in Hong Kong lies in the hegemonic interference of the US and some other Western countries and the ill-legacy of Western colonialism.”
He noted that US President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other political dignitaries have met with the key figures who had disrupted Hong Kong and offered them scholarships to study at top-level US universities. NGOs such as the National Endowment for Democracy, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, the International Republican Institute, Human Rights Watch and Freedom House, stationed in Hong Kong had provided funding, logistics and training support for the anti-China rioters.
He also noted that the US Congress had passed the so-called “Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act”, and Trump had signed it into law, “blatantly abetting and providing legal protection to the violent criminals in Hong Kong to do whatever they want”.
Lin also dismissed Hong Kong’s judiciary, which has often ruled against the pro-Beijing government, as the product of a Western “divide-and-rule” strategy. He said that before the Western colonisers left, they had set up judicial, education, and governance systems and institutions to safeguard their vested interests there. These systems had restricted the effective governance of the Hong Kong government and dampened efforts to decolonise Hong Kong.
“I think it is not difficult for friends in South Africa, who suffered from colonialism and racism, to understand what happens in Hong Kong.”
“The key to maintaining Hong Kong’s long-term stability and prosperity is to rest on the stability and prosperity of the mainland, China,” he said.
Before Lin’s briefing, the embassy showed journalists videos of the protests in Hong Kong, with an emphasis on the vandalism and violence. They also showed videos of many terrorist attacks in the western province of Xinjiang.
The BBC reported last month – based on documents leaked to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists (ICIJ) – that China was systematically brainwashing hundreds of thousands of Muslims – mostly from Xinjiang’s Muslim Uighur community – in a network of high-security prison camps in the province.
The Chinese government has consistently claimed these camps offer voluntary education and training, but the BBC said official documents it had seen had shown how inmates were “locked up, indoctrinated and punished”. It said China’s UK ambassador had dismissed the documents as fake news.
In Pretoria, ambassador Lin said China had “set up vocational education and training centres to offer free training programmes to local youths” in Xinjiang as part of Beijing’s programme to counter-terrorism.
“The Xinjiang-related issues are not about human rights, ethnicity or religion, but about fighting violence, terrorism and separatism,” said Lin.
“Since the 1990s, instigated by the Western anti-China forces, some ethnic separatists, religious extremists, and violent terrorists both in and outside China have masterminded and engaged in thousands of violent terrorist attacks such as bombings, assassinations, poisoning, arson and riots in Xinjiang, killing a large number of innocent people, including hundreds of policemen and causing immeasurable property losses.
“During the riots on July 5th, 2009, 197 people were killed, more than 1,700 people were injured, 331 shops and 1,325 cars were smashed and burned, and many municipal public facilities were damaged.”
A White Paper issued by China’s State Council Information Office in March 2019 blames the 5 July 2009 riots in Urumqi city and most other terrorist attacks in Xinjiang between 1990 and 2016 on the East Turkmenistan Islamic Party which seeks independence for Xinjiang under that name. Its reported deaths total 534 with hundreds more injured in these attacks on civilians, police officers and other government officials and moderate religious leaders.
Lin said China was addressing both the symptoms and root causes of terrorism with reactive and preventative measures. On the one hand, it was cracking down on all illegal, violent and terrorist crimes “in accordance with the law”. According to Lin, since 2014, Xinjiang had cracked down on 1,588 violent and terrorist gangs, arrested 12,995 terrorists, seized 2,052 explosive devices, investigated and dealt with 4,858 illegal religious activities involving 30,645 people and confiscated 3,452 illegal extremist religious propaganda materials.
“On the other hand, Xinjiang has been actively exploring new approaches to combat terrorism and eradicate extremism, and set up vocational education and training centres to offer free training programmes to local youths, including those who have committed minor offences but have been exempted from criminal punishment.”
Lin said these measures had succeeded because there had been no violent terrorist cases in Xinjiang for three consecutive years.
It was “shameful” that the US was applying double standards to China’s counter-terrorist efforts, despite its own counter-terrorist actions after the 9/11 terror attacks.