Pompeo accuses China of muzzling Hong Kong

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flays China for infringing on the democratic rights of the citizens of Hong Kong over its move to end the Tiananmen Vigils. Hong Kong is increasingly becoming a proxy for the US-China 'cold war' with continuous back and forth between the two powers.

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The United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accuses China of muzzling Hong Kong by preventing a vigil to mark the Tiananmen Square protests on Tuesday, amid a heated feud between Washington and Beijing over the city’s freedoms. The city-state has become a battleground and somewhat of a proxy for the ongoing escalation in tensions between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of China. Tempers on both sides of the rift are running short, and the mudslinging is in full flow. 

“If there is any doubt about Beijing’s intent, it is to deny Hong Kongers a voice and a choice, making them the same as mainlanders. So much for two systems,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter. 

“We urge Hong Kong authorities to allow people to peacefully remember the Chinese Communist Party’s victims,” said the State Department spokeswoman, Morgan Ortagus.

Read more: New Security Law in Hong Kong approved by Chinese parliament

Pompeo last week certified that Hong Kong no longer was autonomous from China under US law after Beijing pushed ahead on a controversial new security law.

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader, Carrie Lam, earlier Monday accused the United States of “double standards” as President Donald Trump orders the use of force to disperse demonstrators against racial abuse.

Pompeo accuses China of infringing on Hong Kong independence

Earlier, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated on May 27 that “[n]o reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground.” A May 28 joint statement of the U.S., Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom expressed “deep concern” over the security law, saying it would “dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

Later, Pompeo also said that the recent treatment of pro-democracy activists made it harder to assess Hong Kong’s autonomy from China, a requirement for the city’s special treatment under US law. Recently Pompeo accuses China of clamping down on Hong Kong.  

In response, China’s foreign ministry accused him of “blackmailing” the Hong Kong government, and said recent actions by the US amounted to blatant interference in China’s internal affairs.

Why did Hong Kong police ban the vigil?

Hong Kong authorities effectively barred the annual commemoration of the bloody 1989 crackdown — a major gathering in contrast to the imposed silence on the mainland — by extending a ban on gatherings to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

Police rejected permission for this year’s rally saying it would “constitute a major threat to the life and health of the general public”, according to a letter of objection to organisers obtained by AFP.

However, Hong Kong has managed to keep the virus mostly in check, with just over 1,000 infections and four deaths. Bars, restaurants, gyms and cinemas have largely reopened in recent weeks. 

Read more: New Security Law in Hong Kong approved by Chinese parliament

In the last two days five local infections were reported, breaking nearly two weeks of zero tallies.

This makes the decision to ban the Tiananmen Vigil all the more perplexing for Hong Kongers who were geared to commemorate the deadly incident. 

Organisers of vigil are defiant and call on volunteers to participate remotely

Organisers accused police of using the virus as an excuse to ban the rally. 

“I don’t see why the government finds political rallies unacceptable while it gave green lights to resumption of schools and other services ranging from catering, karaoke to swimming pools,” said Lee Cheuk-yan, chairman of the Hong Kong Alliance which has organised every vigil since 1990.

The alliance called on residents to instead light a candle at 8pm on Thursday and observe one minute of silence wherever they can.

“If we are not allowed to light a candle at a rally, we will let the candles be lit across the city,” Lee said. 

Lee also vowed that the alliance would continue to chant the slogan “end one-party rule” during the commemoration despite Beijing’s recently announced plans to impose a law criminalising acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference.

What is the Tiananmen Vigil?

The Tiananmen Square protests were student-led demonstrations calling for democracy, free speech and a free press in China. They were halted in a bloody crackdown, known as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, by the Chinese government on June 4 and 5, 1989.

In 1989, the Tiananmen crackdown occurred when China’s leaders sent tanks and troops to quell student protesters calling for democracy and an end to corruption.

Hundreds were killed, with some estimates suggesting that more than 1,000 perished.

Three decades on, it remains one of the most sensitive subjects in mainland China and any mention of it is strictly censored.

But in Hong Kong, the memory of what happened at Tiananmen is kept alive. 

The annual vigils swelled before the 1997 handover to China and have become especially charged in recent years as many Hong Kongers chafe under Beijing’s rule.

This year’s anniversary is likely to coincide with Hong Kong’s pro-government stacked legislature voting for a law banning insults to China’s national anthem.

AFP with additional input by GVS News Desk