Small rallies held in Hong Kong this week in solidarity with demonstrations in mainland China against Covid-19 curbs amounted to the “fledging of another colour revolution,” the city’s security chief has said.

The gatherings of small crowds holding blank A4 papers to mourn the victims of a recent fire in Urumqi, Xinjiang, could be the start of large-scale unrest, Secretary for Security Chris Tang warned on Wednesday.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang. File photo: Peter Lee/HKFP.

He said the activities were held in local tertiary institutions and on the streets “in the name of remembering the incident in Urumqi” and attempted to “incite [others] to target the central authorities.”

Citing online calls for the rallies, including ones made on social media platforms which Tang described as “anti-China,” the security minister said the activities held were “not random” and were “highly organised.” These events amounted to attempts to endanger national security, he said.

“We noted that these were the fledging stage of another colour revolution. Some people deliberately found social conflicts and then incite [others] and cause division,” he told reporters at the Legislative Council.

Participants used the same props at various events, Tang said, adding some individuals who were “active in the black-clad violence in 2019” also took part in the events.

Those who joined the rallies may issue “protest manuals” soon, Tang claimed, as well as create theme songs and produce “large amount of misinformation to vilify the central authorities, the government and law enforcement officers.”

A gathering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The city must take “preventive measures” to avoid returning to the “chaotic state” of 2019, he said.

“Later they will occupy the streets, use violence, throw petrol bombs and ravage our university campuses again. And after that, there will be large-scale riots and plunge the society into chaos,” he said.

Nationwide protests

Small-scale rallies have been staged in Hong Kong in recent days after protests against Covid-19 restrictions escalated in multiple Chinese cities. The unprecedented nationwide demonstrations escalated following a deadly fire in Xinjiang’s capital that killed 10 people, with residents blaming lockdown policies for hindering rescue efforts, claims the authorities deny.

Protesters in China demanded an end to the pandemic curbs, while some demonstrations later morphed into wider calls for freedoms and for Chinese leader Xi Jinping to step down.

Blank sheets of paper became a symbol of the protests that swept through key cities including Beijing and Shanghai and university campuses across the country.

Asked if holding a blank placard could be considered a violation of the national security law, Hong Kong’s security chief on Wednesday said it would depend on “the whole situation.” But phrases such as “power abuse,” “leaders, step down,” “dictatorship” and “revolution,” which had appeared at demonstrations over the past few days, could be seen as endangering national security and thus violating the law.

A gathering at the Chinese University of Hong Kong on Monday, November 28, 2022, in solidarity with protests against Covid regulations in China. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

“No matter who you are, whether you are students, mainland students or the media… if you break the law, you have to bear the legal consequences,” he said.

Zero-Covid

Beijing on Monday decried those who linked the fire to Covid measures as “forces with ulterior motives,” saying local officials had “made clear the facts.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian on Tuesday was asked by Reuters if the country would consider ending its zero-Covid policy soon given the widespread frustration. The official was temporarily silent before he asked the journalist to repeat his question.

“What you mentioned does not reflect what actually happened. China has been following the dynamic zero-Covid policy and would make adjustments based on the actual situation,” he said.

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.