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Beijing warning on HK activism stirs outcry

Beijing warning on HK activism stirs outcry

Chinese criticism of Hong Kong's support for a man who protested a tainted milk scandal has unleashed an angry response from activists and politicians the semiautonomous territory who see Beijing's comments as an attempt to silence them.
A former British colony, Hong Kong's constitution guarantees freedom of speech and protest. Local activists are regular critics of China's harsh treatment of dissidents, making the city a rare pocket of unfettered political activism in an otherwise authoritarian country.
While Beijing typically tolerates such dissent from Hong Kong, the huge outpouring of sympathy for Zhao Lianhai has apparently struck a nerve.
Asked about the Hong Kong campaign to free Zhao, the top Chinese official in charge of Hong Kong affairs delivered a blunt message.
"I think outsiders shouldn't interfere with mainland rulings," Wang Guangya told journalists in Beijing on Wednesday.
"Well water should not mix with river water," Wang added, using a Chinese expression that means everyone should mind his own business.
The comments could signal a new tone in Beijing-Hong Kong relations since Wang was named director of China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office in October. His pointed remarks on Wednesday also mark a departure from the low-profile approach of his predecessor Liao Hui.
"Beijing wants to clamp down on excessive criticism of the mainland, but our criticism of the Chinese government is a display of patriotism," opposition legislator Lee Cheuk-yan told The Associated Press on Thursday. "Loving one's country isn't the same as loving the Chinese Communist Party. We will always stand on the side of the people, fighting for human rights and freedom."
Zhao was sentenced to a two-and-a-half year prison term last month for inciting social disorder after organizing parents whose children were poisoned by milk and milk products tainted with the industrial chemical melamine. His 3-year-old son developed kidney stones from drinking adulterated products in 2008.
While Zhao has been released on parole, his former lawyer has said he suspects Zhao was pressured into a deal that promised freedom in exchange for silence.
"Hong Kong people caring about mainland affairs must be distinguished from interfering in mainland affairs," the centrist Ming Pao Daily News wrote in its editorial Thursday.


Updated : 2021-04-13 04:24 GMT+08:00