While the majority of pan-democracy lawmakers in Hong Kong decided to serve extended terms in the Legislative Council (LegCo), which had been expected, some observers said that political battles will continue, as anti-government forces will continue testing the waters until the first trial under the national security law for Hong Kong has a stronger deterrent effect.
A survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute found that 47.1 percent of respondents said that opposition members should keep their seats in the LegCo while 45.8 percent were in favor of their resignations.
The survey came after China's top legislature, the National People's Congress, agreed in August to extend the sixth LegCo lawmakers' term of office by at least one year, as the COVID-19 outbreak was not fully contained in Hong Kong. The opposition camp split over whether to stay during the LegCo's extended term.
That most of the opposition lawmakers chose to stay was in line with expectations, since if they lose their seats in the LegCo they will lose the body's resources as well as channels for their political activities, Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
"Also, pan-democracy lawmakers need their identities as lawmakers to continue attracting public attention, which will help their political careers," Lau said.
Some Western politicians and observers have been hyping the debate on the extended LegCo term, hoping the majority of the opposition camp would resign, which could have become a new excuse for them to bring up new sanctions on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) government or the central government for the so-called restriction of political freedom.
"Without a majority resigning, Western forces that have been trying to meddle in Hong Kong affairs would be unable to hype the legitimacy of the LegCo," Lawrence Tang Fei, a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
"Opposition lawmakers are facing a dilemma about whether acting in a moderate manner or being more radical in fighting against the HKSAR government," Lau said.
However, some observers of Hong Kong affairs said that radical activities on the streets may persist as a way of testing the waters of the enacted national security law, but the scale of anti-government rampages and riots would be significantly downsized.
By spreading destructive rumors, some ill-intentioned people have been actively planning illegal protests to resume their "black terror" during the upcoming Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holiday period. Meanwhile, the anti-government group Civil Human Rights Front applied for permission to hold an assembly, but its request was rejected as COVID-19 has not been fully controlled in Hong Kong.
Ahead of planned illegal activities, the Liaison Office of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR said in an official statement on Tuesday that under the national security law, the reckless moves of rioters in Hong Kong won't be tolerated.
"When the radical protesters and opposition step back will depend on how determined the police are in enforcing the law and how the judicial system rules on national security-relevant cases," Tang said.
On assessing the risks of possible illegal gatherings on Thursday, the Hong Kong Police Force (HKPF) confirmed to the Global Times that it would deploy at least 6,000 officers to handle potential chaos.
Still, the national security law for Hong Kong has already shown a deterrent effect, as some "predominant anti-government figures" like Joshua Wong have not fought like some radical rioters on the front lines, who have confronted police officers and defied the law in recent illegal protests. Even some opposition leaders like Martin Lee Chu-ming, co-founder of the Hong Kong opposition camp, softened their tone after the law came into force.
"The next year will be a critical time for pan-democracy lawmakers to decide whether Hong Kong's opposition can re-position itself and continue its political life," Lau said.
Since the law took effect three months ago, the HKPF has arrested over 20 suspects who allegedly violated the law, and who colluded to commit fraud and money laundering, Police Commissioner Chris Tang told district councilors at a Yau Tsim Mong district council meeting on Tuesday. Among those, two have been prosecuted, according to media reports.
"The law has played out its deterrent effect, and some organizations and individuals have changed their positions in a conspicuous manner," Tang said.
The HKPF began taking action even ahead of planned illegal protests during the National Day holidays, as it confirmed with the Global Times late Tuesday there were three men aged 19 to 30 arrested on Monday and Tuesday involving the suspected instigation of others for illegal gatherings, setting fires and public obstruction through social media platforms.