In Hong Kong, China Tries to Drown Out Security Law’s Critics

HONG KONG — Pro-China canvassers are urgent cautious Hong Kong residents for signatures. The metropolis’s enterprise tycoons are declaring their religion within the Chinese authorities. Local officers, senior and junior alike, are stepping up to pledge their assist, mimicking picket shows of fealty which might be a staple of Communist Party politics within the mainland.

The Chinese authorities has mounted an aggressive marketing campaign to forged a extra optimistic mild on its therapy of Hong Kong, the place residents have pushed again sharply towards Beijing’s more and more heavy hand. The new drive is meant to exhibit a broad stage of assist amongst civil servants, enterprise leaders and town’s greater than seven million residents for a brand new nationwide safety legislation that Beijing is forcing the previous British colony to undertake.

“They are doing everything they can to drum up a welcoming vibe about this new law,” mentioned Claudia Mo, a pro-democracy lawmaker. “It’s simply sickening. Who are you trying to fool?”

The marketing campaign represents a brazen try by China’s chief, Xi Jinping, to drown out critics at a time when China is dealing with a world outcry over its plan for Hong Kong. With the United States threatening economic punishment in retaliation, Chinese officers are selling the concept they’re responding to the need of the Hong Kong individuals and that their authoritarian insurance policies get pleasure from broad public assist.

The legislation has not but been drafted, although China’s prime legislative physique on Thursday permitted the plan to enact one, maybe by September. The plan displays Beijing’s frustration with pro-democracy protests which have roiled Hong Kong since final yr. Critics worry that any legislation would undermine the territory’s liberties, together with its custom of free speech and an unbiased judiciary, permitting Beijing to stamp out dissent.

Polling knowledge on the brand new legislation is restricted, however current occasions recommend it is not going to be properly acquired. Officials have prevented pushing such laws since 2003 as a result of it was seen as deeply unpopular. Pro-democracy candidates received 57 p.c of the vote in district-level elections in November, trouncing their pro-Beijing rivals.

To counter that narrative, Mr. Xi, China’s strongest chief in a long time, is deploying the identical political playbook in Hong Kong that he has used to consolidate his energy within the mainland, utilizing public shows of loyalty to challenge confidence at weak moments.

Chinese officers use such shows of allegiance — often known as biao tai, or expressing one’s place — to uphold Mr. Xi’s selections to sideline political opponents and to tighten management of the media.

“They want this kind of well-orchestrated drama to present the picture that they have the people behind them, when clearly the majority of Hong Kong people are against the new law,” mentioned Willy Lam, a political analyst on the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “The message to the opposition is: ‘We have already garnered the support of so many people, so it is futile to oppose it.’ ”

More than a dozen Hong Kong officers, together with the leaders of the police, fireplace and immigration departments, have provided strikingly related endorsements of a brand new legislation.

They have denounced the antigovernment protesters as rioters. They have warned in regards to the menace posed by terrorism and argued that stricter legal guidelines are obligatory for long-term prosperity.

The statements are a jarring show of conformity in a metropolis identified for impassioned debate, they usually mirror Beijing’s rising affect within the territory, consultants say.

“The civil service used to be more politically neutral,” mentioned Mr. Lam, the analyst. “Hong Kong is increasingly following the Communist Party’s customs.”

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief government, has helped lead the cost. She has mentioned the legislation has drawn a “positive response” from residents and that international buyers are longing for a secure setting. On Thursday, she stood alongside residents of a pro-Beijing neighborhood and signed a petition in assist.

Mr. Xi lately dispatched a prime deputy to meet members of town’s enterprise elite who had traveled to Beijing for the annual assembly of China’s legislature. The deputy, Han Zheng, who oversees Hong Kong coverage, praised them for his or her diligence and reminded them of their duties as social gathering members to publicly assist the legislation.

Then got here the speaking factors. Growing unrest pressured Beijing to push by laws, Mr. Han mentioned, in accordance to a video of the assembly launched by the Chinese authorities. Social stability was essential for Hong Kong’s economic system, he mentioned.

Hong Kong’s enterprise neighborhood as soon as served as a buffer to Beijing’s hard-line insurance policies. But the social gathering has introduced many enterprise leaders to its aspect in recent times, turning to them for assist throughout crucial moments of political instability.

Hong Kong’s tycoons and enterprise elite management about one third of the seats of the Legislative Council, town’s lawmaking physique. Their assist is rewarded by profitable offers on the mainland.

“They fall into line when they need to because they hold the balance of power in the chief executive elections and in return their business is looked after on the mainland and here,” mentioned David Webb, a longtime Hong Kong investor.

Beijing’s marketing campaign has prompted even reasonable members of the institution to change their tone.

Michael Tien, a pro-Beijing lawmaker who had called for compromise throughout final yr’s protests, mentioned stricter legal guidelines had been obligatory. After attending legislative conferences during the last week in Beijing, he mentioned he had turn out to be satisfied that China meant to use the legislation to go after a “small majority of people in Hong Kong who are instigating conflict.”

“The radicals are coming back,” Mr. Tien mentioned of the protests. “It has gone beyond my tolerance and patience.”

The social gathering has additionally activated its community of supporters in Hong Kong.

A gaggle affiliated with the pro-Beijing institution has arrange cubicles with crimson, white and blue banners to collect signatures in assist of the legislation. The group, often known as the United Front Supporting National Security Legislation, has collected greater than 1.eight million signatures, in accordance to Chinese state media.

The group’s advisers embody Starry Lee and Regina Ip, two pro-Beijing politicians. During her time as Hong Kong’s prime safety official 20 years in the past, Ms. Ip tried and failed to cross a legislation towards subversion and treason often known as Article 23.

Ms. Ip mentioned the petition drives had been organized by “dyed-in-the-wool patriots.” She mentioned that whereas she was an adviser, she had not been participating on the street actions due to “scheduling conflicts.”

“In principle of course we support it but I haven’t seen the details,” Ms. Ip mentioned of the safety legislation. But, she added, “it needs to be consistent with common-law principles so that our judges and police can enforce it.”

At lunchtime on Thursday, a number of volunteers for the group held clipboards on a crowded walkway in Hong Kong’s bustling Causeway Bay neighborhood.

While the group’s web site required individuals to present names, the final 4 digits of their authorities identification numbers and their cellphone numbers, passers-by in Causeway Bay had been requested to signal with out offering every other private data. Signatures ranged from full names and English first names to illegible scribbles.

Peggy Lau, 40, provided her signature. She mentioned the protests have “made the environment really bad and unsettling.”

“Marches that express people’s demands are fine, but not violence,” mentioned Ms. Lau, who works in finance. “It affects our livelihoods so much.”

In mainland China, the state-run information media has offered heavy protection of statements of assist from Hong Kong officers, enterprise leaders and staff. China Central Television, the state broadcaster, mentioned the petition drive confirmed that “all walks of life in Hong Kong fully support Hong Kong to defend the national security law.”

Ms. Mo, the lawmaker, mentioned the marketing campaign confirmed that the social gathering seen Hong Kong as a daily Chinese metropolis and that it will demand the identical ideological conformity that it imposes within the mainland.

“When I was young I was taught you do not get harmony if everyone sings the same note,” she mentioned. “That pluralism, that diversity, is supposed to be good. Now there’s no such thing.”

Javier C. Hernández reported from Taipei, Taiwan, and Alexandra Stevenson from Hong Kong. Elaine Yu contributed reporting from Hong Kong. Cao Li and Albee Zhang contributed analysis.

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