(Bloomberg) — Hong Kong’s controversial former leader said it was “senseless” to think mass protests could force Beijing’s hand, amid months of increasingly violent rallies against China’s grip on the city.
“It’s extremely senseless and irresponsible for political figures in Hong Kong and outside Hong Kong to think that somehow by bringing hundreds of thousands of people into the streets of Hong Kong, somehow China’s hand could be forced,” Leung Chun-ying said in an address at the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club on Thursday.
He added it was also pointless to think “that we could have full autonomy in Hong Kong without China’s involvement, that we could have a local democracy that has all the hallmarks of a sovereign democracy.”
Leung, who governed the former British colony between 2012 and 2017 and was in power during its mass Occupy protests five years ago, spoke days after pro-democracy politicians won a landslide in local elections over the weekend. “We’re not seeing the end of this,” he said. “We know the results, we know how the votes are split, but we don’t know the consequences.”
He addressed the U.S.’s Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act signed Wednesday by President Donald Trump. The legislation requires annual reviews of the financial hub’s special trade status under American law, as well as sanctions against any officials deemed responsible for human rights abuses or undermining its autonomy. It prompted Beijing to threaten retaliation as the two sides work to sign a phase one trade deal.
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“I don’t think the congressmen who voted for this act were fully informed, or correctly informed,” Leung said. “I don’t think whoever initiated this, be they American or Hong Kong people, ever had the interest of Hong Kong in mind. It’s a proxy thing. I don’t think they have Hong Kong’s freedoms, Hong Kong’s democracy and Hong Kong’s human rights in mind. It’s all about China.”
Leung has been a frequent critic of pro-democracy campaigners and railed against the threats from activists who pursued Hong Kong independence while he was in office. He told the lunchtime audience at the FCC that pro-democracy politicians were “now joined in the hips” with “radicals.”
In August, Leung posted a link on his personal Facebook page that promised a crowd-funded bounty and anonymity to potential tipsters helping identify demonstrators who committed acts of vandalism or violence during protests that have thrown the city into chaos in recent months. The demonstrations, which began over legislation allowing extraditions to China, have since morphed into a wider movement against Beijing’s grip.
Leung — alongside China’s foreign ministry — previously criticized the FCC for hosting a talk by independence activist Andy Chan, whose Hong Kong National Party has been banned by the city’s government. Following that event, the club’s acting president, Financial Times journalist Victor Mallet, was refused a visa renewal.
“They want civic nominations, open nominations of candidates, and that’s not in the Basic Law, and they did not want to negotiate — somehow they thought that bringing out the masses, 100,000 people in the streets, why don’t you agree that that’s not politics?” Leung said. “That’s not diplomacy.”
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Daniel Ten Kate at [email protected], Jon Herskovitz, Chris Kay
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