American and Taiwanese interference have fanned the flames of the Hong Kong protests and played a role in the evolution of the anti-government movement, according to the city’s security minister.
John Lee Ka-chiu also pointed to the decline in demonstrations since the end of January and street activists’ lack of new equipment as he questioned whether the movement was losing sources of funding.
Speaking exclusively to the South China Morning Post on the first anniversary of the mass movement against the now-withdrawn extradition bill, the secretary of security said he would still introduce the proposals in the interests of justice if the clock was turned back.
“Without this bill, a murder case like this would not be resolved. We need somebody with supreme wisdom to answer that problem,” he said, referring to the ongoing extradition saga of Chan Tong-kai, the Hongkonger wanted in Taiwan for killing his pregnant girlfriend.
“I have reflected on my overall performance. The introduction of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance was for justice. I was doing what I believed was right – to put a stop to the violence, to the unlawful activities and to the threats facing society.”
On June 9 last year, an estimated 1 million people took to the streets to demonstrate against the extradition bill that would have allowed fugitives to be sent to mainland China, Taiwan and other jurisdictions with which Hong Kong has no exchange arrangement.
What started as peaceful marches against the draft law soon morphed into a broader anti-government movement focused on political reform and police conduct. Protests often descended into violent clashes between radicals and police in chaos that continued throughout 2019.
A total of 8,986 people were arrested between June 2019 and the end of last month for offences including rioting and arson.
Lee said he was deeply saddened to see young people being used to commit violent acts. He singled out the US and Taiwan as he accused foreign forces of interference. The minister said the spreading of misinformation, the “abrogation of moral standards” and the levels of interference went beyond his imagination.
In November, the US passed the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, paving the way for economic sanctions that President Donald Trump last month said would be gradually rolled out.
Lee said the legislation was against international law and amounted to “utter interference” in Hong Kong internal affairs.
“And of course, the whole protests happened during the Taiwan [presidential] election. So there is interference by external forces during the hostile months [of protests] and I think we can see that,” Lee said.
He said that meddling from the US and Taiwan had “definitely” altered the course of the anti-government movement, but refused to elaborate on how he thought those jurisdictions had fuelled the protests and whether they were involved in funding.
“Large-scale protests need resources, money and planning,” Lee added, noting he had observed protesters recycling equipment they had previously bought afresh.
Lee said he believed the movement was highly organised as he listed the division of labour, surveillance of police deployment, the way protesters attacked with the support of supply lines, the on-ground command network, and the use of hand signals for communication.
“We have been seeing the advocacy of Hong Kong independence. Lately we have been seeing the implications of foreign interference on Hong Kong affairs.
“We have seen a drop in activities because of a lack of financial resources. So people should really make their own analysis and draw their own conclusions on what all these things are about?”
Engaged in streets battles with extremist protesters who blocked streets, vandalised shops and threw bricks and petrol bombs, police fired 16,223 rounds of tear gas, 10,108 rubber bullets, 1,885 sponge grenades, 2,033 beanbag rounds and 19 live rounds of ammunition between June 2019 and May 2020. The police response has triggered accusations they used excessive force.
The minister said it was disheartening to see how the public now perceived a highly performing police force that was essentially the same one as 12 months ago.
He labelled unfair and damaging the accusation that police turned a blind eye to their own accountability, saying the force had disciplined officers guilty of misconduct, while arresting their own officers who broke the law and pursuing their cases to court.
Everyone has the right to make his own decisions, but none has the right to force his decision on others.