Hong Kong leader tells US not to ‘interfere’ after fresh protests

Hong Kong's pro-Beijing Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that any change to its economic relationship with Washington would threaten mutual benefits. (AP)
Updated 10 September 2019

Hong Kong leader tells US not to ‘interfere’ after fresh protests

  • Washington has rejected Beijing’s allegations that it is backing the demonstrators
  • Trump has called for a peaceful resolution to the political crisis

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s embattled leader warned the United States on Tuesday not to “interfere” with her government’s response to the city’s pro-democracy movement, after fresh protests called on Washington to ramp up pressure on Beijing.

Millions of people have demonstrated over the last 14 weeks in the biggest challenge to China’s rule of the financial hub since its handover from Britain in 1997.

Protesters took to the streets again on Sunday, marching to the American consulate to call on Congress to pass a bill expressing support for the pro-democracy movement.

The proposed law could undermine Hong Kong’s special US trade privileges by mandating regular checks on whether authorities were respecting the Basic Law that underpins the city’s semi-autonomous status.

But Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that any change to its economic relationship with Washington would threaten “mutual benefits.”

“It’s extremely inappropriate for any country to interfere in Hong Kong’s affairs,” she told reporters.

“I hope that no more people in Hong Kong actively reach out to tell the United States to pass the act.”

While some American politicians on both sides of the aisle have expressed support for the democratic goals of the protesters, President Donald Trump’s administration has maintained a more hands-off approach while it fights a trade war with China.

Trump has called for a peaceful resolution to the political crisis and urged Beijing to not escalate with a violent crackdown.
But he has also said it is up to China to handle the protests.

Washington has rejected Beijing’s allegations that it is backing the demonstrators and China has provided little evidence to back its claims beyond supportive statements from some US politicians.

Separately, more than 150 lawmakers in Britain have called on Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab to offer second citizenship and the right of abode to residents of Hong Kong.

That would “send a strong message to China that the people of Hong Kong are not alone,” the open letter said.

Hong Kong’s protests were lit by a plan to allow extraditions to the authoritarian mainland, seen by opponents as the latest move by China to chip away at the city’s unique freedoms.

After Beijing and city leaders took a hard line, the movement snowballed into a broader campaign calling for greater democracy, police accountability and an amnesty for those arrested.

The protests show no signs of abating, and Lam has struck an uncompromising tone for much of the last three months. But last week, she made a surprise concession, announcing the full withdrawal of the extradition bill.

That was not enough to mollify pro-democracy activists, who denounced the move as too little and too late, and huge crowds thronged the streets again over the weekend.

In what has become a familiar pattern, Sunday’s main daytime rally to the US consulate passed off peacefully. But as evening set in, riot police chased groups of hardcore protesters who blocked roads, vandalized nearby subway stations and set makeshift barricades on fire.

Lam once again denounced demonstrators during her Tuesday press conference. “The crazy destruction made at MTR stations shows that protesters have acted beyond expressing their views on the extradition law and other demands,” she said, using the name of the firm that runs the city’s underground rail service.

“The escalating and continuous violence cannot solve the problems we face in Hong Kong.”


Keir Starmer elected new UK Labour leader

Updated 27 min 31 sec ago

Keir Starmer elected new UK Labour leader

  • The 57-year-old former chief state prosecutor defeated Corbyn loyalist Rebecca Long-Bailey and backbencher Lisa Nandy in a lengthy campaign
  • Starmer, who was Labour’s Brexit spokesman, called his election “the honor and privilege” of his life

LONDON: Pro-European centrist Keir Starmer was on Saturday unveiled as new Labour party leader, heralding a shift in Britain’s main opposition party after a crushing election defeat under veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn and years of ideological infighting.
The 57-year-old former chief state prosecutor defeated Corbyn loyalist Rebecca Long-Bailey and backbencher Lisa Nandy in a lengthy campaign sparked by Corbyn’s resignation after December’s loss at the polls to Boris Johnson’s Conservatives.
Angela Rayner becomes the new deputy leader, Labour announced on Twitter, after it was forced to cancel a special conference because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Starmer, who was Labour’s Brexit spokesman, called his election “the honor and privilege” of his life and vowed to “engage constructively” with Johnson’s Conservative government.
Johnson immediately offered his congratulations and the pair spoke, with Starmer accepting an invitation to a government briefing on COVID-19 next week.
“Keir offered to work constructively with the government on how best to respond to the coronavirus outbreak,” his spokesman said.
Starmer himself vowed to reunite Labour, after deep rifts between supporters of socialist Corbyn’s hard-left ideals and centrists, and wrangling over its Brexit strategy.
He immediately addressed the issue of anti-Semitism that Corbyn was accused of failing to tackle, which tarnished the party’s reputation and caused Jewish members to leave in droves.
“Anti-Semitism has been a stain on our party. I have seen the grief that it’s brought to so many Jewish communities,” Starmer said.
“On behalf of the Labour Party, I am sorry.
“And I will tear out this poison by its roots and judge success by the return of Jewish members and those who felt that they could no longer support us.”
Starmer, who won a resounding 56.2 percent of the vote of Labour members, acknowledged the party had “a mountain to climb,” after four straight general election defeats — two under Corbyn.
But he vowed: “We will climb it.”
He added: “I will lead this great party into a new era, with confidence and with hope.
“So that when the time comes, we can serve our country again in government.”
Labour grew out of the trade union movement but moved to the political center under former prime minister Tony Blair, who was in office between 1997 and 2007.
Corbyn spent a lifetime on the sidelines because of his left-wing views, and his election as leader in 2015, on the back of a huge surge in party membership, was a shock.
MPs and party members have been locked in an ideological battle ever since.
“There’s really a lot of bad blood and mistrust,” said Steven Fielding, a political expert at the University of Nottingham.
“The first challenge (for the new leader) will be to put a team together that at least looks like it has the ability to unify the party.”
Winning back voters who defected to the Conservatives is also top of Starmer’s “to do” list if Labour is to have any hope of victory at the next election, currently scheduled for 2024.
Brexit was a toxic issue for the party, torn between euroskeptic supporters in many northern English towns and pro-EU voters in the big cities such as London.
Starmer was opposed to Brexit and played a key role in moving Labour to support a second referendum on leaving the European Union.
However, voters were not convinced and Johnson took Britain out of the bloc on January 31.
The coronavirus outbreak has brought a more immediate challenge.
Johnson’s government has imposed draconian curbs on public movement to try to stop the spread — measures backed by Labour, although it successfully pressed for more parliamentary scrutiny of new police powers.
The Conservatives have also promised eye-watering sums to keep businesses and individuals afloat, wading into traditional Labour territory.
In response, Johnson’s popularity ratings have shot up.
A YouGov survey last week found that 55 percent of the public had a favorable opinion of him, up from 43 percent a week earlier.
Some 72 percent thought the government was doing well — including a majority of Labour voters.
Ministers have been on the back foot in recent days, however, over the lack of testing for coronavirus and protective equipment for health care staff.
Labour has been pressing the issues and Starmer said this would continue.
“My instinct will be to be constructive but to ask the difficult questions,” he told a Guardian podcast this week.