A year on from the start of Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, the leader of the semi-autonomous Chinese city said Tuesday that all sides should learn from the difficulties and challenging times over the past year.
“Everyone has to learn their lesson, including the Hong Kong government,” Carrie Lam told reporters before a weekly meeting with advisors. “Hong Kong cannot bear that kind of chaos, and the people of Hong Kong want a stable and peaceful environment to be able to live and work here happily.”
Lam did not elaborate on what lessons should have been learned.
Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the first large-scale protest against a proposed extradition bill that would have allowed people in this former British colony, which has its own legal system, to be sent to mainland China to stand trial. Organizers pegged the turnout at more than a million people, while police estimated a crowd of 240,000.
“The mass protest on 9 June last year has been etched in the collective memory of Hongkongers,” the Civil Human Rights Front, which organized the event, wrote in a Facebook post on Tuesday. “It also marks the beginning of our togetherness in defending our beloved city.”
The march through central Hong Kong was the start of a pro-democracy movement that saw protesters break into the legislative building and take to the streets every weekend for months, even after the extradition bill was withdrawn.
At times, violent clashes broke out between protesters and the police, leading to accusations of police brutality and sparking protester demands for an independent inquiry into police behaviour.
Hong Kong saw a lull in protests during the coronavirus outbreak early this year, but as infections have ebbed, protesters have returned to the street to demonstrate against an imminent national security law for Hong Kong as well as a recently approved national anthem bill that makes it illegal to insult the Chinese national anthem.
Critics and protesters say that the national security law is a blow to the “one country, two systems” framework following the handover of Hong Kong from Britain to China in 1997, which promised the city freedoms not found on the mainland.
There were calls for protests to mark the anniversary Tuesday, both at lunchtime and in the evening, though no sizable ones had materialized by early afternoon.
China blames the protests in part on foreign intervention and is hastening to enact a national security law for Hong Kong aimed at curbing secessionist and subversive activities.
Hong Kong’s problems are a result of the opposition and foreign allies “attempting to turn Hong Kong into an independent or semi-independent political entity and a pawn to contain China’s development,” Zhang Xiaoming, deputy director of the Chinese Cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, said in a speech posted to the office’s website Monday.