HONG KONG (Reuters) - Hong Kong protesters rallied outside diplomatic missions on Thursday to urge foreign governments to follow the United States and pass human rights bills to raise pressure on Beijing and support their pro-democracy campaign.
U.S. President Donald Trump signed legislation last month requiring the State Department to certify, at least once a year, that Hong Kong retains enough autonomy from Beijing to justify favourable U.S. trading terms.
About 1,000 people, most of them dressed in black and wearing face masks, marched on a route that took them by the consulates of Australia, Britain, the European Union, the United States, Japan and Canada, to drop off a petition.
British, EU and U.S. diplomats came out to receive it and took photographs with the protesters.
“What happens in Hong Kong is not just a local issue, it is about human rights and democracy. Foreign governments should understand how this city is being suppressed,” said Suki Chan, who participated in the protest.
“We need to continue to seek international attention and let them know this movement is not losing momentum.”
Hong Kong has been rattled for more than six months by anti-government protests amid growing anger over what many see as Chinese meddling in the freedoms promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997.
Beijing has denied such meddling, blaming the unrest on “foreign forces” and saying attempts to interfere in the city are doomed to fail.
The U.S. legislation, which also threatens sanctions for human rights violations, followed similar “citizen diplomacy” petitions in Hong Kong this year and has been cheered by protesters.
Beijing denounced the U.S. legislation and Hong Kong’s government said it sent the wrong signal to the demonstrators and increased economic uncertainty in Hong Kong, a major financial hub.
The marchers’ petition condemned what it called police brutality and urged governments to pass legislation to punish Chinese and Hong Kong officials by denying them visas and freezing their assets.
The police say they have acted with restraint.
Police said separately on Thursday they had arrested four people suspected of money laundering in relation to the protests and had frozen HK$70 million ($9 million) in bank deposits.
Chan Wai Kei, from the police’s financial investigation and narcotics bureau, told reporters the four were part of a group that had asked for donations for arrested and injured protesters but used some of the money for personal investments.
Beijing says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” formula that guarantees a high degree of autonomy.
Chinese President Xi Jinping has this week visited the neighbouring gambling hub of Macau, a former Portuguese colony, which he praised on Thursday, drawing a contrast with the Hong Kong protests.
“Love China, love Macau has become the core value of the whole society,” Xi told local officials.
The Macau government and “all parts of society deeply understand that harmony leads to prosperity, (and the importance of) unity, negotiation, no argument, no internal conflict, resisting external interference.”
On Friday Xi was due to attend ceremonies for the 20th anniversary of Macau’s handover to China, and was expected to announce economic perks as a reward for its stability and loyalty.
At the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong, protesters called for U.S. Congress to pass a “Be Water Act”, legislation championed by Missouri Senator Josh Hawley and named after a protest slogan borrowed from martial arts legend Bruce Lee.
The bill would freeze assets of Chinese nationals and state-owned enterprises believed to have contributed to suppressing freedom of speech in Hong Kong.
Thursday also marked the 35th anniversary of a treaty between China and Britain on Hong Kong’s future, which set the stage for its handover.
British Foreign secretary Dominic Raab urged China in a statement to open dialogue with the protesters and respect the commitments in the treaty.
The Chinese foreign ministry said in 2017 the 1984 joint declaration, signed by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, was a historical document that no longer had any practical significance.
Hong Kong’s special status, which helped it grow into a global financial centre and avoid U.S. tariffs on Chinese imports, is important to Beijing, which uses the city as its main gateway to global capital.
($1 = 7.8249 Hong Kong dollars)
Reporting by Felix Tam, Mari Saito, Clare Jim, Donny Kwok; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Robert Birsel and Frances Kerry