HK riot sparks talk of controversial law

Riot police guarding a street where a fire was set by protesters at Mongkok district in Hong Kong, on Feb 9, 2016.
Riot police guarding a street where a fire was set by protesters at Mongkok district in Hong Kong, on Feb 9, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

Questions raised over possible enactment of disputed national security legislation

HONG KONG • In unusually blunt remarks on a local Hong Kong issue, China's top representative in the city has blamed "radical separatists" for a riot that erupted in Mongkok last week.

Mr Zhang Xiaoming, director of the central government's Liaison Office in Hong Kong, told reporters yesterday that the violence - the worst the city has seen since mass pro-democracy protests in 2014 - that left dozens of police officers hurt also showed the "radical separatists" were "inclined towards terrorism".

His comments come as Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying said most of the protesters were unemployed. "The majority of them are jobless. Many of them belong to radical political groups. Their political demands... cannot reflect the majority of society," Mr Leung said yesterday.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry last Thursday blamed the mayhem that erupted in Hong Kong during the Chinese New Year festive period on a "local radical separatist organisation".

Mr Zhang said yesterday: "After the riot in Mongkok, we are feeling very much shocked and saddened.

"We strongly condemn those radical separatists who have become increasingly violent, even (carrying out) activities that showed terror tendencies," he said.

But when asked if Hong Kong needed to enact its own national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law in the wake of the violence, Mr Zhang said he did not want to link the two issues for now.

Hong Kong security chief Lai Tung Kwok has also moved to quash concerns that the controversial Article 23 might be back on the front burner, after a former top government adviser said it should be introduced following the Mongkok riot.

Former government Central Policy Unit head, Professor Lau Siu Kai, had said the sooner Article 23 was enacted, the better it would be for Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post reported yesterday.

Mr Lai, when asked if he thought Beijing was paving the way to legislate Article 23 by classifying the rioters as "separatists", said: "The stance of the current government has always been the same. There have been no changes because of (the riot)."

The clashes - dubbed the "fishball revolution" after a favourite Hong Kong street snack - erupted when protesters gathered after official attempts to remove illegal hawkers from Mongkok last Monday night.

The demonstrators included activists who wanted to restrict Beijing's influence on the city.

Pro-democracy activist Joseph Cheng said: "Condemning the riot has the purpose of justifying the hard-line (stance) of Beijing."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 15, 2016, with the headline 'HK riot sparks talk of controversial law'. Print Edition | Subscribe