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China spotlights military drill amid Hong Kong protests

By Poornima Weerasekara

Beijing (AFP)

July 3, 2019

An army-linked newspaper in China has run photos of a week-old military drill in Hong Kong, a move analysts described as a warning to Beijing’s critics as the city grapples with a wave of anti-government protests.

The People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has maintained a garrison in Hong Kong since the former British colony was returned to Beijing in 1997, but its troops generally keep a low profile and are rarely seen in uniform in public.

The unit’s routine military exercises have not attracted much attention in the past.

But a PLA-affiliated newspaper posted photos of the week-old military drill on Tuesday — a day after pro-democracy protesters ransacked Hong Kong’s legislature and left anti-Beijing messages on its walls in an unprecedented show of anger.

Huge rallies have shaken the semi-autonomous territory since last month, sparked by opposition to a bill that would allow extraditions to the Chinese mainland.

The PLA Daily said on its verified account on the Twitter-like Weibo platform that the joint exercise last Wednesday — which involved ground forces, the navy and the air force — were aimed at “reviewing and raising the units’ combat abilities in emergency dispatches”.

The photos showed Chinese soldiers pointing automatic rifles on a boat, a PLA helicopter, and warships.

“The intention of this exercise is obvious. It is to warn the Hong Kong independence elements and to deter foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs,” said Ni Lexiong of the Shanghai National Defence Strategy Institute.

“If things develop to a more extreme level, and if the Hong Kong government isn’t able to cope with the situation, the central government may use troops.”

– ‘Blatant challenge’ –

Zhu Yonghua, a naval commander involved in the exercise, told the Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily that the drills will help improve the Chinese military’s ability to “help the Hong Kong government protect the lives and property of its citizens”.

Beijing on Tuesday called for a criminal investigation into the storming of the Hong Kong legislature, which it described as a “blatant challenge” to the “one country, two systems” policy that has given the city its semi-autonomous status for 22 years.

China has also lashed out against “foreign interference” in Hong Kong.

“The announcement of the PLA exercise by China’s state media is a not-so-subtle message to Hong Kong and the world that China would ultimately be willing to resort to force in order to secure its interests in Hong Kong,” said Adam Ni, a researcher on Chinese foreign and security policy at Macquarie University in Australia.

The Chinese military received official ownership of a piece of prime Hong Kong waterfront land Saturday, which will allow its warships to berth in the city’s famed Victoria Harbour in future.

Source: Sino Daily.

Link: http://www.sinodaily.com/reports/China_spotlights_military_drill_amid_Hong_Kong_protests_999.html.

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Hong Kong braces for more protests on handover anniversary

June 30, 2019

HONG KONG (AP) — More than 50,000 people rallied in support of the Hong Kong police on Sunday as the semi-autonomous territory braced for another day of protests on the anniversary of the former British colony’s return to China.

The crowd filled a park in front of the legislature and chanted “Thank you” to the police, who have been criticized for using tear gas and rubber bullets during clashes with demonstrators that left dozens injured on June 12. Some carried Chinese flags. Police estimated the turnout at 53,000.

A protest march has been called for Monday, the third in three weeks, this one on the 22nd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China on July 1, 1997. Activists have also said they will try to disrupt an annual flag-raising ceremony attended by senior Hong Kong and mainland Chinese officials in the morning.

Police have erected tall barriers and shut off access to Golden Bauhinia Square, where the flag-raising will be held, to prevent protesters from massing there overnight. The anniversary always draws protests, but this year’s is expected to be larger than usual because of widespread opposition to a government proposal to allow suspects to be extradited to mainland China to face charges. More than a million people took to the streets in two previous marches in June, organizers estimate.

The proposal has awakened broader fears that China is eroding the freedoms and rights that Hong Kong is guaranteed for 50 years after the handover under a “one country, two systems” framework. The government has already postponed debate on the extradition bill indefinitely, leaving it to die, but protest leaders want the legislation formally withdrawn and the resignation of Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam. They also are demanding an independent inquiry into police actions on June 12.

Hundreds of people gathered Sunday at the Education University of Hong Kong to hold a moment of silence and lay flowers for a 21-year-old student who fell to her death the previous day in an apparent suicide. Hong Kong media reports said she wrote a message on a wall stating the protesters’ demands and asking others to persist.

“It’s reminding us we need to keep going on the process of fighting with the, I wouldn’t say fighting with the government, but we need to keep going on fighting not to have the extradition law,” said student Gabriel Lau.

Georgians keep protesting despite speaker’s resignation

June 21, 2019

TBILISI, Georgia (AP) — The speaker of Georgia’s parliament stepped down Friday in the wake of violent clashes that left at least 240 people injured, but the move failed to assuage protesters, who returned to the streets demanding that the interior minister also step down over a brutal police response.

A night of clashes Thursday was sparked by a Russian lawmaker who took the speaker’s seat as a group of international lawmakers met at the Georgian parliament in Tbilisi. It angered the opposition, which sees the current Georgian government as overly friendly to Russian interests.

The protests mark the largest outpouring of anger against the ruling Georgian Dream since it took power in 2012. Officials said at least 240 people were injured when riot police fired rubber bullets and tear gas and unleashed water cannon on protesters outside Georgia’s parliament building during the clashes that lasted into early Friday. More than 100 people are still in the hospital, and two people lost eyes because of the rubber bullets, according to Giorgi Kordzakhiya, director of Tbilisi’s New Hospital.

Prime Minister Mamuka Bakhtadze blamed opposition leaders for the violence, saying they hijacked a “genuine” public outpouring but then “violated the law and the Constitution.” Speaker Irakli Kobakhidze, who was out of the country on an official visit, handed in his resignation but several thousand protesters returned to the parliament building Friday, demanding the interior minister also resign. Many wore eyepatches in solidarity with those who lost their eyes.

President Salome Zurabishvili also cut short a foreign trip to return to the capital. Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday ordered that the country’s airlines stop transporting Russian citizens to Georgia beginning July 8, citing national security concerns. The reason for delaying the implementation wasn’t immediately clear. He also ordered officials to assist in bringing Russians home from Georgia.

The move carries echoes of Russia’s full ban on transport links with Georgia in 2006 amid rising tensions between Moscow and Tbilisi. Air connections were restored in 2010, two years after a short war between Russia and Georgia.

Anti-Russian sentiments run deep in Georgia, which made a botched attempt to regain control over breakaway province of South Ossetia during the presidency of Mikheil Saakashvili, sparking the 2008 war that routed the Georgian military in five days of fighting. Moscow then recognized the independence of South Ossetia and another breakaway Georgian province of Abkhazia and set up military bases there.

Georgian Dream, which is led and funded by billionaire Bidzina Ivanishvili, who made his fortune in Russia, has controlled parliament and dominated the nation’s political scene since in 2012. “We will do everything to oust this government that serves Russia,” said 32-year-old lawyer Demetre Saladze, who was among the protesters Friday.

Engineer Vakhtang Kiriya, 28, vowed that the protesters will make the government answer for the brutal police crackdown. “We will fight until Ivanishvili and his team flee Georgia,” he said. “They should get ready to board their jets.”

Sergei Gavrilov, the Russian lawmaker who sparked the conflict by taking the Georgian speaker’s seat, on Friday blamed the clashes on “radical groups” who he said were trying to stage a “coup.” Speaking on Russian state TV, he rejected reports that he was fighting on the side of separatists in Abkhazia, saying he had only been there on “humanitarian missions.”

Russia and Georgia broke off diplomatic relations after the 2008 war, but steps have been made in recent years to restore ties, including Georgia scrapping visitor visas for Russians and Russia lifting a ban on Georgian wine and fruit imports. Still, animosity toward Russia remains strong due to the Kremlin’s support of the two separatist regions.

Other Russian officials blamed Georgian politicians for trying to undermine the slow thaw in relations. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted that thousands of Russian tourists vacationing were in Georgia, as a reason of Moscow’s concern about what he described as an anti-Russian “provocation.”

Nataliya Vasilyeva, Vladimir Isachenkov and Jim Heintz in Moscow and Sophiko Megrelidze in Tbilisi contributed to this report.

Hong Kong protests fade as activists mull next steps

June 18, 2019

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong’s leader planned to speak to the media Tuesday afternoon after protests over legislation that sparked fears of Beijing’s increasing control in the former British colony. Government headquarters reopened in the morning as the number of protesters outside dwindled to a few dozen.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam previously had suspended work on the extradition bill that ignited the protests but still faces calls to resign for having sought to push through the legislation, which would allow some suspects to be tried in mainland Chinese courts.

She was scheduled to hold a news conference at 4 p.m. but it wasn’t clear if she would take questions. Late Monday, Hong Kong’s police commissioner, Stephen Lo Wai-chung, sought to defuse anger over aggressive police tactics during protests last week. He said only five of 15 people arrested during the clashes were charged with rioting, a serious offense that can result in a prison term of up to 10 years. Another 17 people were arrested on lesser charges.

Lo still defended as appropriate the police response to the protests, which included the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and steel batons against protesters who removed crowd control and traffic barriers.

Those tactics helped draw nearly 2 million people, young and old, into a march on Sunday, according to organizers’ estimates. Protesters were demanding Lam scrap the extradition bill and authorities apologize for the police actions.

A member of the Executive Council, Lam’s cabinet, told reporters that Hong Kong’s leaders made a “big mistake” in not consulting the public before proposing the legislation. Lam Ching-choi said of Carrie Lam, “I believe she will communicate her apologies to the public in the near future.”

The activists have rejected Lam’s apologies for her handling of the legislation, which touched a nerve not easily soothed in a city anxious over the increasingly authoritarian Communist rule of Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The uproar also highlights worries that Hong Kong is losing the special autonomous status China promised it when it took control in 1997. On June 9, as many as 1 million people demonstrated to express their concern over Hong Kong’s relations with mainland China.

The scenes are similar to demonstrations in 2014, when protesters camped for weeks in the streets demanding a direct election to decide the city’s chief executive, who is chosen by a pro-Beijing committee.

One concern over the extradition bill is that it might be used to send critics of Communist Party rule to the mainland to face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials. Lam insists the legislation is needed for Hong Kong to uphold justice and not become a magnet for fugitives. It would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over the judicial independence of its courts and its human rights record. The vast majority of Hong Kong residents fled persecution, political chaos or poverty and famine in the Chinese mainland. They value stability and but also cherish freedoms of dissent and legal protections not allowed for people on the mainland.

Hong Kong police begin to clear streets of protesters

June 17, 2019

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police and protesters faced off Monday as authorities began trying to clear the streets of a few hundred who remained near the city government headquarters after massive demonstrations that stretched deep into the night before.

The police asked for cooperation in clearing the road but said the protesters could stay on the sidewalks. Protesters, many in masks and other gear to guard against possible use of tear gas, responded with chants, some kneeling in front of the officers. The move came after activists rejected an apology from the city’s top leader for her handling of legislation that has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing in this former British colony.

Groups of police, most in normal uniforms not riot gear, sought to clear the roads of metal and plastic barricades to enable traffic to pass through. In some places, the protesters quickly moved to put them back to block traffic.

Hundreds of protesters were sitting or lying along a main road through downtown, but they were scattered over a relatively wide area. Activists called on Hong Kong residents to boycott classes and work, though it was unclear how many might heed that call.

Nearly 2 million of the city’s 7 million people turned out on Sunday, according to estimates by protest organizers. Police said 338,000 were counted on the designated protest route in the “peak period” of the march. A week earlier as many as 1 million people demonstrated to voice their concern over Hong Kong’s relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the territory’s special status since Beijing took control in a 1997 handover.

The scenes were similar to those seen nearly five years earlier, when protesters camped for weeks in the streets to protest rules that prevented the direct election of the city’s chief executive, the top local official.

One of the activists arrested after those demonstrations, Joshua Wong, was due to be released from prison Monday. He served half of a two-month jail sentence for contempt. After daybreak Monday, police announced that they want to clear the streets. Soon after, police lined up several officers deep and faced off against several hundred demonstrators on a street in central Hong Kong.

The night before, as protesters reached the march’s end thousands gathered outside the city government headquarters and the office of Chief Executive Carrie Lam, who on Saturday suspended her effort to force passage of the bill.

Hong Kong residents worry that allowing some suspects to be sent for trial in mainland China would be another of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedoms and legal autonomy. One concern is that the law might be used to send criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.

The protesters are demanding that Lam scrap the proposal for good and that she step down. Protesters are also angered over the forceful tactics by police use of tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside the city government’s headquarters to quell unrest during demonstrations on Wednesday, and over Lam’s decision to call the clashes a riot. That worsens the potential legal consequences for those involved.

In a statement issued late Sunday, Lam noted the demonstrations and said the government “understands that these views have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong.” “The chief executive apologizes to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledges to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” it said.

Not enough, said the pro-democracy activists. “This is a total insult to and fooling the people who took to the street!” the Civil Human Rights Front said in a statement. Protesters have mainly focused their anger on Lam, who had little choice but to carry through dictates issued by Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has enforced increasingly authoritarian rule. But some were skeptical that having Lam step down would help.

“It doesn’t really matter because the next one would be just as evil,” said Kayley Fung, 27. Many here believe Hong Kong’s legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing’s insistence that it is still honoring its promise, dubbed “one country, two systems,” that the territory can retain its own social, legal and political system for 50 years after the handover in 1997.

After Lam announced she was suspending the legislation to avoid more violence and allow additional debate, Chinese government officials issued multiple statements backing that decision. Lam, however, made clear she was not withdrawing it.

She has sidestepped questions over whether she should quit and also defended how the police dealt with last week’s clashes with demonstrators. Lam insists the extradition legislation is needed if Hong Kong is to uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record. Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least one mainland businessman are among moves in recent years that have unnerved many in the city of 7 million.

Associated Press journalists Tassanee Vejpongsa, Christopher Bodeen and Elaine Kurtenbach contributed to this report.

Massive protests draw apology from Hong Kong leadership

June 16, 2019

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong citizens marched for hours Sunday in a massive protest that drew a late-in-the-day apology from the city’s top leader for her handling of legislation that has stoked fears of expanding control from Beijing in this former British colony.

The demonstration looked likely to match in scale one a week earlier that brought as many as 1 million people out to express their concern over Hong Kong’s relations with mainland China in one of the toughest tests of the territory’s special status since China took control in a 1997 handover.

Well after dark, crowds gathered outside the police headquarters and Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s office. On Saturday Lam suspended her effort to force passage of the bill, which would allow some suspects to be sent for trial in mainland China.

The move did not appease Hong Kong residents angered over the plan who see it as one of many steps chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedoms and legal autonomy. Opponents worry the law could be used to send criminal suspects to China to potentially face vague political charges, possible torture and unfair trials.

Protesters are also angered over forceful tactics by police in quelling unrest at a June 12 demonstration. Periodically, the shouts of the protesters standing shoulder-to-shoulder in front of the police headquarters would crescendo in a roar that reverberated through the narrow concrete canyons of the red-light district of Wanchai.

Smaller crowds stood chanting outside Lam’s office building. The statement issued late Sunday mentioned the demonstrations and said the government “understands that these views have been made out of love and care for Hong Kong.”

“The chief executive apologized to the people of Hong Kong for this and pledged to adopt a most sincere and humble attitude to accept criticisms and make improvements in serving the public,” it said. The marchers want Lam to scrap the extradition bill, which is supported by the communist leadership in Beijing, and to resign.

The crowds filled a wide thoroughfare and side streets paralleling the waterfront of Victoria Harbor as tourists and shoppers who drive much of the Asian financial hub’s economy looked on. At the march’s end, hundreds sat wearily around the city government headquarters. Some were singing. Some listening to speeches. Some just resting.

“Our demands are simple. Carrie Lam must leave office, the extradition law must be withdrawn and the police must apologize for using extreme violence against their own people,” bank worker John Chow said as he marched with a group of his friends. “And we will continue.”

Protesters have mainly focused their anger on Lam, who had little choice but to carry through dictates issued by Beijing, where President Xi Jinping has enforced increasingly authoritarian rule. Many here believe Hong Kong’s legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing’s insistence that it is still honoring its promise, dubbed “one country, two systems,” that the territory can retain its own social, legal and political system for 50 years after the handover.

The rally drew marchers both young and old, some pushing strollers or carrying slumbering infants. Few wore face masks or seemed to be trying to hide their identities, in contrast with demonstrations Wednesday, when participants expressed worries over possible retribution from the authorities.

Protesters also are angry over the way police used tear gas, rubber bullets and other forceful measures as demonstrators broke through barricades outside the city government’s headquarters in that smaller but more aggressive protest.

The police presence Sunday was considerably more relaxed, with officers deployed mainly to direct traffic as the protesters wound their way through Hong Kong’s commercial center from a sprawling downtown park to government headquarters.

Farther down the parade route, mourners lined up to lay flowers and pay respects at a makeshift memorial for a man who fell to his death Saturday after hanging a protest banner that read in part, “Make Love, No Shoot” and “No Extradition to China.”

The man slipped from the grasp of rescuers after clinging for a time to scaffolding outside a shopping mall. He missed a large cushion set up to capture him, and was declared dead at a nearby hospital.

Many protesters wore ribbons on their shirts and carried placards showing protesters who had been beaten bloody last week. Pro-democracy activists were calling for a general strike on Monday despite Lam’s decision to suspend work on the legislation. Some labor unions, teachers associations and other groups were planning boycotts of work and classes, demanding the Lam administration retire the proposed amendments and not bring them up again for passage at a later stage.

“We encourage all the public to carry on the campaign,” said Bonnie Leung, a leader of the pro-democracy group Civil Human Rights Front. “If any new violence takes place, it will be the responsibility of the police.”

The Communist Party-ruled mainland took control in 1997 with a promise not to interfere with the city’s civil liberties and courts. Many in Hong Kong fear the extradition bill would undermine freedoms enjoyed here but not elsewhere in China.

“China just wants to turn Hong Kong into another Chinese city,” said Alex To, 54, who runs a small business. “Carrie Lam is just a figurehead. Everything depends on the attitudes of the leaders in Beijing.”

After Lam announced she was suspending the legislation to avoid more violence and allow additional debate, Chinese government officials issued multiple statements backing that decision. Lam, however, made clear she was not withdrawing it.

She has sidestepped questions over whether she should quit and also defended how the police dealt with last week’s clashes with demonstrators. Lam maintains that the extradition legislation is needed if Hong Kong is to uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

So far, China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record. Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least one mainland businessman are among moves in recent years that have unnerved many in the city of 7 million.

Hong Kong police fire tear gas, water as protest escalates

June 12, 2019

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong police fired tear gas and high-pressure water hoses against protesters who had massed outside government headquarters Wednesday in opposition to a proposed extradition bill that has become a lightning rod for concerns over greater Chinese control and erosion of civil liberties in the semiautonomous territory.

The afternoon violence marked a major escalation in the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s biggest political crisis in years. It came after protesters earlier in the day forced the delay of a legislative debate over the bill, which would allow criminal suspects in Hong Kong to be sent for trial in mainland China.

The overwhelming young crowd had overflowed onto a major downtown road as they overturned barriers and tussled with police outside the government building. But when some appeared to have breached the police cordon around offices of the government and Legislative Council in the city state’s Wanchai district, leading to the police response, which also included firing nonlethal projectiles.

Earlier, a curt government statement said the session scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. would be “changed to a later time.” Officials gave no indication of when that would be and Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam canceled a scheduled news briefing.

The delay appeared to have been at least a temporary victory for the bill’s opponents, whose protests are the largest since pro-democracy demonstrations closed down parts of the Asian financial center for more than three months in 2014. Some businesses closed for the day, and labor strikes and class boycotts were called.

The protests are a challenge to China’s ruling Communist Party and President Xi Jinping, who has in the past said he would not tolerate Hong Kong being used as a base to challenge the party’s authority. But they are also giving vent to young Hong Kongers alienated by a political process dominated by the territory’s economic elite.

Protesters said they hoped the blockade would persuade Lam’s administration to shelve the proposed amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance.

“We want the government to just set the legislation aside and not bring it back,” said a protester who gave only his first name, Marco, to avoid possible repercussions from authorities. Another protester, who gave her name only as King, also out of fear of repercussions, said the protest was a watershed moment for Hong Kong’s young generation, who face difficult job prospects and skyrocketing housing prices.

“We have to stand up for our rights or they will be taken away,” she said. Dressed in black T-shirts and jeans, many protesters appeared undaunted by demands to disperse from police. Protesters clashed with police intermittently throughout the day, occasionally hurling traffic cones and other objects over metal traffic barriers. Police initially responded with pepper spray, which was met with unfurled parasols as used in 2014 pro-democracy protests that became known as the Umbrella Movement.

The demonstrators also appeared mindful of Beijing’s growing use of electronic surveillance such as facial recognition technology to build dossiers on those it considers politically unreliable, with many donning surgical or anti-pollution masks to hide their features, as well as to safeguard against tear gas.

Such protests are never tolerated in mainland China, and Hong Kong residents can face travel bans and other repercussions if they cross the border. In a statement read out to reporters, Hong Kong Chief Secretary for Administration Mathew Cheung urged the protesters to clear the streets.

“I would also like to ask the people in this gathering to stay calm and leave the scene as soon as possible and not to commit any crime,” he added. Under its “one country, two systems” framework, Hong Kong was supposed to be guaranteed the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years following its handover from British rule in 1997. However, China’s ruling Communist Party has been seen as increasingly reneging on that agreement by forcing through unpopular legal changes.

The government pushed ahead with plans to present the amendments to the legislature on Wednesday despite a weekend protest by hundreds of thousands of people that was the territory’s largest political demonstration in more than a decade.

Lam has consistently defended the legislation as necessary to close legal loopholes with other countries and territories. A vote is scheduled on June 20. The protests are widely seen as reflecting growing apprehension about relations with the Communist Party-ruled mainland, where Xi has said he has zero tolerance for those demanding greater self-rule for Hong Kong.

Critics believe the extradition legislation would put Hong Kong residents at risk of being entrapped in China’s judicial system, in which opponents of Communist Party rule have been charged with economic crimes or ill-defined national security offenses, and would not be guaranteed free trials.

Lam said the government has considered concerns from the private sector and altered the bill to improve human rights safeguards. She said without the changes, Hong Kong would risk becoming a haven for fugitives.

She emphasized that extradition cases would be decided by Hong Kong courts. Opponents of the proposed extradition amendments say the changes would significantly compromise Hong Kong’s legal independence, long viewed as one of the crucial differences between the territory and mainland China.

Hong Kong currently limits extraditions to jurisdictions with which it has existing agreements and to others on an individual basis. China has been excluded from those agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.

Those in Hong Kong who anger China’s central government have come under greater pressure since Xi came to power in 2012. The detention of several Hong Kong booksellers in late 2015 intensified worries about the erosion of Hong Kong’s rule of law. The booksellers vanished before resurfacing in police custody in mainland China. Among them, Swedish citizen Gui Minhai is being investigated on charges of leaking state secrets after he sold gossipy books about Chinese leaders.

In May, Germany confirmed it had granted asylum to two people from Hong Kong who, according to media reports, were activists fleeing tightening restrictions at home. It was the first known case in recent years of a Western government accepting political refugees from Hong Kong.

Associated Press journalists Raf Wober and Alice Fung in Hong Kong and Sally Ho in Seattle contributed to this report.

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