China’s top official for Hong Kong affairs who said protesting was “not the only way” to express demands did not mean to restrict people’s participation in demonstrations, a pro-Beijing heavyweight has said.

Tam Yiu-chung
Tam Yiu-chung speaks on RTHK on April 17, 2023. Photo: RTHK Screenshot.

The comment from Xia Baolong, the director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO), was only a “friendly reminder” that the city should be wary of people who may use demonstrations to advance other political aims, former delegate to the National People’s Congress Standing Committee Tam Yiu-chung said on RTHK on Monday.

Xia did not say that people were not allowed to take part in demonstrations, the pro-Beijing figure said.

‘Permanent scar’

Tam’s remarks came after Xia delivered a keynote speech on Saturday, when the city marked its National Security Education Day. The Chinese official, who began a six-day visit in Hong Kong last Thursday, slammed the 2019 extradition bill protests as leaving a “permanent scar” on the city and resulting in “everlasting pain.”

It was impossible for Hong Kong to erase such “painful memory,” Xia said, adding the city must not descend into chaos again. He also mentioned the city’s district-level administration, which was once controlled by the pro-democracy camp before over 260 District Councillors resigned or were ousted over a new requirement of swearing allegiance to the government.

According to Xia, Hong Kong must not allow the district body to be “manipulated by anti-China and anti-Hong Kong separatists.”

Xia Baolong
Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) Xia Baolong attends the opening ceremony of the National Security Education Day on April 15, 2023. Photo: HKMAO.

The HKMAO director went on to say that Hong Kong was a diverse society and anyone, regardless of their political stance or religion, could live freely in the city as long as they abided by the Basic Law, the national security law and local laws. Safeguarding national security and expressing demands were not contradictory, he said.

“There are many channels and ways to express interests and demands, they are diverse and a protest is not the only way to express interests and demands,” Xia said.

He added environmental protection and livelihood issues could easily be “hijacked” by those with “ulterior motives.” These people would “distort” demands related to people’s livelihoods into political issues and further trigger resistance in society, the official claimed.

HKFP and several other media outlets were barred from covering Xia’s attendance of the opening ceremony of National Security Education Day. An HKFP journalist was told that their media registration was not approved despite having filed the application before the deadline. HKFP has reached out to the authorities for an explanation.

On Monday, lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen said on the same RTHK programme that Xia’s remarks on demonstrations did not mean marches would be banned. The politician, who identifies as the sole non-establishment legislator, pointed to police approved processions over the past few weeks since most Covid-19 restrictions were axed.

Tik Chi-yuen
Lawmaker Tik Chi-yuen. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Last month, the city saw its first protest against a government policy in about two years, which went ahead under strict rules including a cap on numbers and a requirement that all participants wore an identifying number tag.

The Third Side politician said the events had gone smoothly and demonstrations could continue to happen in the future.

“So would [Xia’s comments] affect the organisers… naturally it would, when you have such cautionary words coming from this high level. But as someone who may organise a march, I am not worried,” the legislator said.

Asked if he agreed that marches linked to livelihood issues may be “hijacked,” Tik said he could not rule out such a possibility. But with the sweeping security legislation in place, the legislator said he believed the police would enforce the law if chaos were to emerge during a procession.

Local media reported on Monday that the HKMAO chief would meet with representatives from various chambers of commerce at the government headquarters.

Xia Baolong
Director of the Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office (HKMAO) Xia Baolong visits the Legislative Council on April 16, 2023. Photo: HKMAO.

During his visit to Hong Kong, which will conclude on Tuesday, Xia has attended a series of closed-door meetings with local government officials, lawmakers and representatives from disciplined services. He also met with representatives from the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society of Hong Kong.

Pro-Beijing heavyweight Tam on Monday said private meetings allowed attendees to “speak freely” and have genuine exchanges. Some people who met with Xia also praised the official as being “honest and straightforward,” Tam said.

“[I]t’s not just for show,” he said.

Support HKFP  |  Code of Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report

Support HKFP  |  Policies & Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report | Apps

legal precedents hong kong
security law transformed hong kong
contact hkfp

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.