China to ‘Perfect’ Choosing Hong Kong Leader as Protests Continue

HONG KONG (Reuters) —
Masked students attend a protest in Hong Kong, despite the  government’s recent ban on use of masks at protests. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The Chinese Communist Party said it would “perfect” the system for choosing the leader of Hong Kong, after months of street protests demanding democracy for the former British colony and denouncing what critics see as Chinese meddling.

The party said in a statement that it would support its “special administrative region” of Hong Kong, which returned to China in 1997, and not tolerate any “separatist behavior” either there or in neighboring Macau, an ex-Portuguese colony that was handed back to Chinese rule two years later.

Some protesters in Hong Kong have called for independence in sometimes violent unrest, a red line for Beijing. China denies meddling.

As the party statement was released by Xinhua news agency, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she had held a short meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Shanghai.

“He expressed care and concern about Hong Kong, especially given the social disturbances that we have seen in the last five months, and he expressed support for the various actions taken by Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government,” she told reporters.

Referring to the foundation of the 1997 deal under which Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule, Lam said: “…In strict accordance with the principle of ‘one country, two systems’ [we will continue] upholding the rule of law and trying to put an end to the violence.”

The “one country, two systems” formula guarantees Hong Kong’s freedoms, including an independent judicial system, for 50 years.

Lam denied widely reported rumors that her government was considering an amnesty for protesters charged with offenses, one of the demands of the protesters. “In simple terms, it will not happen,” she said.

In response to mask-wearing protesters, Lam banned face masks last month, invoking colonial-era emergency powers for the first time in more than 50 years. Protesters have largely ignored the ruling.

China’s Communist Party, in a lengthy statement about decisions reached at a key leadership meeting known as a plenum last week, said it would improve the national security system in Hong Kong, as well as in Macau, though it gave no details.

The party decided to “establish a robust legal system and enforcement mechanism to safeguard national security in the special administrative regions and support them to strengthen law enforcement.”

The party will “perfect” the appointment and dismissal mechanisms for the leaders and senior officials of the two territories, it added, reiterating comments from a Chinese parliament official last week. Again, no details were given.

It will also perfect the system under which the party has full jurisdictional power over Hong Kong, in accordance with the constitution, Xinhua said.

In a nod to some of the economic causes of the unrest, the party said it would support Hong Kong’s economic development with a focus on resolving “deep-rooted” problems that affect social stability.

There will also be a focus on improving the “patriotic spirit” of young people and civil servants, the party said.

The demonstrations in Hong Kong began over a since-scrapped extradition bill and escalated in mid-June against perceived Chinese interference. Protesters have kept up their calls for universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, among other demands.

The protests, which pose the gravest challenge to Xi since he came to power in 2012, have received broad support.

The number of people who take part in the mostly weekend rallies has dwindled from the millions who participated in June, but violence and vandalism have escalated. Authorities have refused permits for many recent protests, making them illegal from the outset and activists liable to be arrested.

There have been many injuries in the protests, but no deaths. A 22-year-old student at a Hong Kong university who fell during protests at the weekend was in critical condition on Tuesday, hospital authorities said.

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