China Pressures Hong Kong to Support Security Law


HONG KONG — Pro-China canvassers are pressing wary Hong Kong residents for signatures. The city’s business tycoons are declaring their faith in the Chinese government. Local officials, senior and junior alike, are stepping up to pledge their support, mimicking wooden displays of fealty that are a staple of Communist Party politics in the mainland.

The Chinese government has mounted an aggressive campaign to cast a more positive light on its treatment of Hong Kong, where residents have pushed back sharply against Beijing’s increasingly heavy hand. The new drive is intended to demonstrate a broad level of support among civil servants, business leaders and the city’s more than seven million residents for a new national security law that Beijing is forcing the former British colony to adopt.

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

On Friday, China’s Ministry of Public Security, the national police and border control, promised in a statement on its website to apply “all of our efforts to direct and support the Hong Kong police to stop violence and restore order.” Hong Kong has its own police force, and the ministry does not currently have any legal enforcement authority in the territory.

To counter that narrative, Mr. Xi, China’s most powerful leader in decades, is deploying the same political playbook in Hong Kong that he has used to consolidate his power in the mainland, using public displays of loyalty to project confidence at vulnerable moments.

“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,” said Willy Lam, a political analyst at 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 officials, including the leaders of the police, fire and immigration departments, have offered strikingly similar endorsements of a new law.

They have denounced the antigovernment protesters as rioters. They have warned about the threat posed by terrorism and argued that stricter laws are necessary for long-term prosperity.

The statements are a jarring display of conformity in a city known for impassioned debate, and they reflect Beijing’s growing influence in the territory, experts say.

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

Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive, has helped lead the charge. She has said the law has drawn a “positive response” from citizens and that foreign investors are eager for a safe environment. On Thursday, she stood alongside residents of a pro-Beijing neighborhood and signed a petition in support.

Mr. Xi recently dispatched a top deputy to meet members of the city’s business elite who had traveled to Beijing for the annual meeting of China’s legislature. The deputy, Han Zheng, who oversees Hong Kong policy, praised them for their diligence and reminded them of their duties as party members to publicly support the law.

Hong Kong’s tycoons and business elite control about one third of the seats of the Legislative Council, the city’s lawmaking body. Their support is rewarded by lucrative deals 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,” said David Webb, a longtime Hong Kong investor.

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

Ms. Ip said the petition drives were organized by “dyed-in-the-wool patriots.” She said that while she was an adviser, she had not been taking part in the street activities because of “scheduling conflicts.”

“In principle of course we support it but I haven’t seen the details,” Ms. Ip said of the security law. 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, several volunteers for the group held clipboards on a crowded walkway in Hong Kong’s bustling Causeway Bay neighborhood.

While the group’s website required people to provide names, the last four digits of their government identification numbers and their phone numbers, passers-by in Causeway Bay were asked to sign without providing any other personal information. Signatures ranged from full names and English first names to illegible scribbles.

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

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

In mainland China, the state-run news media has provided heavy coverage of statements of support from Hong Kong officials, business leaders and workers. China Central Television, the state broadcaster, said the petition drive showed that “all walks of life in Hong Kong fully support Hong Kong to defend the national security law.”

Ms. Mo, the lawmaker, said the campaign showed that the party viewed Hong Kong as a regular Chinese city and that it would demand the same ideological conformity that it imposes in the mainland.

“When I was young I was taught you do not get harmony if everyone sings the same note,” she said. “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 research.



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