Anti-China activists demonstrate in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, September 5, 2016. (AFP)
Beijing has warned anti-China activists who have managed to enter the parliament in Hong Kong to avoid backing independence for the semi-autonomous region.
The Chinese government said in a statement late Monday that no talk of independence would be tolerated “inside or outside” the legislature of Hong Kong, criticizing some of the new lawmakers for using the recent elections in the city to “openly promote” independence.
“We firmly oppose any activity relating to Hong Kong independence in any form, inside or outside the Legislative Council, and firmly support the Hong Kong government to impose punishment in accordance with the law,” said the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council (China’s cabinet).
The statement said those pro-independence campaigns before parliamentary elections in Hong Kong had been against China's constitution, as well as Hong Kong's own mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law.
“It is also against the fundamental interests of all Hong Kong residents,” said the office on its website.
The new parliament in Hong Kong, known as the Legislative Council, will convene on October 1. The results of the votes last weekend showed that activists pushing for more autonomy from China managed to secure seats in the chamber. The turnout in the votes, the first major poll since pro-democracy rallies in 2014, was the highest since the city was handed back to China by Britain under a deal in 1997.
Lawmakers are supposed to start their mandate by swearing an oath to uphold the constitution, which describes Hong Kong as part of China. Under the deal signed between Britain and China, Hong Kong is ruled under a “one country, two systems” deal that protected the city's freedoms for 50 years.
Hong Kong’s government, which is seen as loyal to China, caused public outrage before the votes by banning the most strident independence activists from standing. It also required candidates to sign a controversial new form to show they understood Hong Kong was an “inalienable part of China.”
The opposition camp has now increased its share of the legislature, taking 30 of 70 seats, although gaining a majority would be impossible as 30 seats are allocated by special interest groups that advocate China. However, observers say the situation in the legislature could change if lawmakers decide to fiercely advocate more autonomy.
The independence movement in Hong Kong gained new momentum in 2014, when people protested against China's increasing interference in the affairs of the city, which the public said was threatening liberties in a range of areas, from politics to education and media.