Hong Kong protesters march to consulates to call for support on rights

Protesters during a rally in Hong Kong on Dec 19, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS
Protesters march to foreign consulates in Hong Kong on Dec 19, 2019.

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - Hong Kong protesters rallied outside diplomatic missions on Thursday (Dec 19) to urge foreign governments to follow the United States in passing human rights Bills to raise pressure on Beijing and support their pro-democracy campaign.

Last month, US President Donald Trump signed congressional legislation requiring the State Department to certify, at least once a year, that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy from Beijing to justify favourable US trading terms.

About 1,000 people, most of them dressed in black and wearing face masks, marched on a route that took them by the consulates of Australia, Britain, the European Union, the United States, Japan and Canada, to drop off a petition.

British, EU and US diplomats came out to receive it, and to take photographs with the protesters.

"What happens in Hong Kong is not just a local issue, it is about human rights and democracy. Foreign governments should understand how this city is being suppressed," said Ms Suki Chan, who participated in the protest.

"We need to continue to seek international attention and let them know this movement is not losing momentum."

The marchers' petition called on governments to "stand with Hong Kong" by passing legislation to introduce visa sanctions and freeze assets of Chinese and Hong Kong government officials.

Anti-government protests have roiled the financial hub for more than six months, with protesters angry over what they see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Beijing has blamed the unrest on "foreign forces" and said attempts to interfere in the Chinese-ruled city were doomed to fail.

The US legislation, which also threatens sanctions for human rights violations, came after similar "citizen diplomacy" petitions in Hong Kong this year to the US consulate and has been cheered by protesters waving the stars and stripes flag.

Beijing denounced the US legislation and Hong Kong's government said it sent the wrong signal to the demonstrators and increased economic uncertainty.

The marchers' petition condemned police "brutality" and called on governments to "stand with Hong Kong" by passing legislation for visa sanctions and the freezing of assets of Chinese and Hong Kong officials.

The police say they have acted with restraint.

Police said separately on Thursday they had arrested four people suspected of money laundering in relation to the protests and had frozen HK$70 million (S$12.17 million) in bank deposits.

Mr Chan Wai Kei, from the police's financial investigation and narcotics bureau, told reporters the four were part of a group asking for donations for arrested and injured protesters but used some of the money for personal investments.


At the US consulate, protesters are calling for the passage of the "Be Water Act", championed by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and named after a protest slogan borrowed from martial arts legend Bruce Lee.

The Bill would freeze assets of Chinese nationals and state-owned enterprises believed to have contributed to suppressing freedom of speech in Hong Kong.

Thursday marks the 35th anniversary of a treaty between China and Britain on Hong Kong's future, that set the stage for its 1997 handover.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged China in a statement to open dialogue with the protesters and respect the commitments in the treaty.

In 2017, China's Foreign Ministry said the 1984 joint declaration, signed by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, was a historical document that no longer had any practical significance.

Beijing denies interfering in Hong Kong and says it is committed to the "one country, two systems" formula put in place as a result of the 1984 treaty that guarantees a high degree of autonomy.

Chinese President Xi Jinping has this week been on a visit to the neighbouring gambling hub of Macau, a former Portuguese colony which has been praised by Beijing for "successfully" implementing a similar type of government.

Mr Xi will on Friday attend ceremonies for the 20th anniversary of Macau's handover to China. He is expected to announce economic perks as a reward for its stability and loyalty.

Hong Kong's special status, which helped it grow into a global financial centre and avoid US tariffs on Chinese imports, is also important to Beijing, which uses the city as its main gateway to global capital.

But worries in Hong Kong about what many residents see as the erosion by Beijing of freedoms, and the months of protests partly fuelled by such worries, have raised questions about how the city should be run.

"The framework of 'one country, two systems' obviously is flawed," said protester Ivan Fung, a 30-year-old social worker. "We have to let the international community know so that they can also help us."

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