Hong Kong riot police fired pepper powder pellets at protesters Wednesday during the latestin the semi-autonomous Chinese region. Pro-democracy demonstrators have been enraged by the Chinese Communist Party's recently unveiled plans to assert more control over the city with new — and immensely controversial — national security laws.
In a lunch time protest that echoed the near-daily scenes from Hong Kong's sustained turmoil of 2019, hundreds of people took to the streets in the heart of Central, the city's financial and commercial district. Squads of riot police emerged, taking up positions on footbridges and at intersections, while more police surrounded Hong Kong's legislature.
Officially known as the Legislative Council, the 70-member body tilts heavily in Beijing's favor — by design. The council members were scheduled to meet Wednesday to debate a contentious bill that would make abusing or insulting the Chinese national anthem, written in 1935 and titled "March of the Volunteers," a crime. The law would also require all elementary and high school students to learn the words and to be able to sing the anthem.
By early evening, Hong Kong police said they had arrested at least 290 people for illegal assembly, a criminal offense that can result in jail time. Others were cited for breaking a temporaryregulation that bans gatherings of more than eight people, which carries a fine of about $258.
Protesters accused police of issuing tickets to smaller groups, and some have vowed to argue their cases in court.
President Donald Trump weighed in on Hong Kong again Tuesday, meanwhile, pledging to take action against Beijing over recently-proposed national security laws. Many Hong Kongers, outside observers and the U.S. government fearwill use the new laws to severely erode the freedoms the region enjoys under the "one country, two systems" framework.
Under that policy, Hong Kong enjoys freedoms of speech, press, assembly and a judiciary system independent of mainland China. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said the new laws would be a death knell for the "one country, two systems" policy, which guarantees those rights until 2047.
Asked for his reaction to Beijing's plans, Mr. Trump said Tuesday that his administration was "doing something now. I think you'll find it very interesting. But I won't be talking about it today. It's something you're going to be hearing about... before the end of the week — very powerfully I think."
White House spokesperson Kayleigh McEnany said the president was displeased with China, and that the administration didn't see "how Hong Kong can remain a financial hub if China takes over."
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also voiced concern that the new national security legislation could undermine the "one country, two systems" framework adopted when Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 after 99-years of British colonial rule. The Chamber has urged Beijing to de-escalate the situation.
Beijing's 3,000-member rubber-stamp legislature is all but guaranteed to approve the controversial new legislation, which would formally ban treason, secession, sedition and subversion in Hong Kong, on Thursday, the last day of the annual gathering in Beijing.
The new laws could be implemented as soon as August.