Hong Kong security, police chiefs warn of growing 'terrorism' as Taiwan promises assistance to peopleby Twinnie Siu and Jessie Pang
HONG KONG/TAIPEI — Hong Kong's security and police chiefs said "terrorism" was growing in the city, as government departments rallied on Monday behind Beijing's plans to introduce national security laws after thousands took to the streets to protest against the move.
The security legislation, which could see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in Hong Kong and aims to tackle secession, subversion and terrorist activities, has sent shockwaves through the business and diplomatic communities.
"Terrorism is growing in the city and activities which harm national security, such as 'Hong Kong independence', become more rampant," Secretary for Security John Lee said in a statement.
"In just a few months, Hong Kong has changed from one of the safest cities in the world to a city shrouded in the shadow of violence," he said, adding national security laws were needed to safeguard the city's prosperity and stability.
Police said they arrested more than 180 people on Sunday, when authorities fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse anti-government protesters as unrest returned to the Chinese-ruled city after months of relative calm.
Police Commissioner Chris Tang said there have been 14 cases involving explosives "commonly used in terrorist attacks overseas" and five seizures of firearms and ammunition since protests began in June last year.
The draft legislation "will help combat the force of 'Hong Kong independence' and restore social order. Police fully support it," Tang said.
In a return of the unrest that roiled Hong Kong last year, crowds thronged the streets of the city on Sunday in defiance of curbs imposed to contain the coronavirus, with chants of "Hong Kong independence, the only way out," echoing through the streets.
Calls for independence are anathema to Beijing, which considers Hong Kong an inalienable part of the country. The proposed new national security framework stresses Beijing’s intent "to prevent, stop and punish" such acts.
Protests are expected to resume on Wednesday, when the city's legislature is expected to give a second reading of a bill that would criminalize abuse of China's national anthem.
Agencies issuing statements in support of the legislation included the Commissioner of Correctional Services, Hong Kong Customs, the Fire Department and the Government Flying Service.
Financial Secretary Paul Chan wrote on his blog on Sunday the national security law "itself" does not affect investor confidence, only the "misunderstanding" of it does.
“The central government has already said the law is targeted at the minority of people who are suspected of threatening national security and will not affect the rights of the general public.”
The United States, Australia, Britain, Canada and others have expressed concerns about the legislation, widely seen as a potential turning point for China's freest city and one of the world's leading financial hubs.
Taiwan, which has become a refuge for a small but growing number of pro-democracy protesters fleeing Hong Kong, will provide the people of Hong Kong with "necessary assistance", President Tsai Ing-wen said.
Taiwan has become a refuge for a small but growing number of pro-democracy protesters fleeing Hong Kong, which has been convulsed since last year by anti-Beijing and anti-Hong Kong government protests.
Writing on her Facebook page late on Sunday, Tsai said the proposed legislation was a serious threat to Hong Kong's freedoms and judicial independence.
Bullets and repression are not the way to deal with the aspirations of Hong Kong's people for freedom and democracy, she added.
"In face of the changing situation, the international community has proactively stretched out a helping hand to Hong Kong's people," Tsai wrote.
Taiwan will "even more proactively perfect and forge ahead with relevant support work, and provide Hong Kong's people with necessary assistance", she wrote.
Taiwan has no law on refugees that could be applied to Hong Kong protesters who seek asylum on the island. Its laws do promise, though, to help Hong Kong citizens whose safety and liberty are threatened for political reasons.
The number of Hong Kong immigrants to Taiwan jumped 150% to 2,383 in the first four months of 2020 from the same period last year, official data shows.
Johnny Chiang, chairman of Taiwan's main opposition party, the Kuomintang, said Tsai's government was vocal about support for Hong Kong on the election campaign trail but had failed to provide meaningful help since Tsai was re-elected in January.
"Don't let 'supporting Hong Kong' only be a slogan of empty promises ... Bring up your thoughts on legislation. Support Hong Kong with real actions," Chiang said, referring to parliamentary bills to give political asylum for people from Hong Kong.
The small New Power Party also urged Tsai's cabinet to establish a special task force to give "tangible assistance" to Hong Kong people.
The Hong Kong protests have won widespread sympathy in Taiwan, and the support for the protesters by Tsai and her administration have worsened already poor ties between Taipei and Beijing.
China has accused supporters of Taiwan independence of colluding with the protesters.
China believes Tsai to be a "separatist" bent on declaring the island's formal independence. Tsai says Taiwan is already an independent country called the Republic of China, its official name.
© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2020.