Police fired tear gas and water cannon on Sunday to break up an unauthorized march, which was held in violation of a ban on gatherings of more than eight people amid a coronavirus outbreak.
They said 180 arrests were made during the clashes.
Following months of calm, unrest returned to Hong Kong last week after Beijing announced a plan to introduce new national security laws that are expected to forbid sedition, secession and subversion against the mainland.
It will also pave the way for Chinese national security institutions to operate in the city for the first time since 1997, when Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese rule. The bill was submitted on Friday to the Chinese parliament — National People’s Congress.
Critics view such a measure as a blow to the semi-autonomous region’s autonomy and civil liberties, but Beijing has assured that the planned security laws target a minority of troublemakers that disregard law and order in Hong Kong.
Reacting to the new wave of unrest, Hong Kong’s Secretary for Security John Lee warned in a statement on Monday that “terrorism is growing in the city and activities which harm national security, such as Hong Kong independence, become more rampant.”
Lee defended the mainland’s proposed security bill as a necessary measure to restore peace and stability to the violence-hit financial hub.
“In just a few months, Hong Kong has changed from one of the safest cities in the world to a city shrouded in the shadow of violence,” he said.
Other governmental agencies in Hong Kong issued similar statements in support of the new legislation, including the Commissioner of Correctional Services and Hong Kong Customs office, pointing out the necessity “to prevent, stop and punish” unlawful acts.
Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry branch in Hong Kong said on Monday that some acts during last year’s protests were “terrorist in nature,” posing “imminent danger” to national security.
Xie Feng, the commissioner of China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong, made the remarks during a speech over the security situation in Hong Kong.
He was referring to the months-long demonstrations that hit Hong Kong last year over a bill that would have allowed the extradition of suspects to mainland courts for trial.
The local administration later dropped that bill in the face of angry protests.
Taiwan backs Hong Kong protesters
In contrast, the leadership in Taiwan — a self-governing island viewed by China as a breakaway province — criticized the proposed security laws and offered assistance to the protesters in Hong Kong.
Taiwan’s pro-independence President Tsai Ing-wen — which has American support — said in a Facebook post late Sunday that Beijing’s move would threaten the people’s freedoms and Hong Kong’s judicial independence in comments that are likely to spark anger in the mainland.
“In face of the changing situation, the international community has proactively stretched out a helping hand to Hong Kong’s people,” Tsai wrote. Taiwan will “even more proactively perfect and forge ahead with relevant support work, and provide Hong Kong’s people with necessary assistance,” she added.
Tsai is opposed to internationally-practiced “One China” policy, under which Beijing claims sovereignty over Taiwan.
US threatens China with sanctions
Meanwhile, the White House threatened to impose new sanctions on China over its Hong Kong policy amid a deepening war of words between the two sides over the coronavirus pandemic and trade deals, among other disputes.
“It looks like with this national security law they’re going to basically take over Hong Kong and if they do … Secretary [of State Mike] Pompeo will likely be unable to certify that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy,” said National security adviser Robert O’Brien said in an interview with NBC.
“And if that happens there will be sanctions that will be imposed on Hong Kong and China,” he added.
China regards the Hong Kong situation as a domestic issue and has repeatedly warned the US and other foreign parties against meddling in its internal affairs.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated Beijing’s stance on Sunday and said, “Aside from the devastation caused by the novel coronavirus, there is also a political virus spreading through the US,” Wang said. “This political virus is the use of every opportunity to attack and smear China.
He made the comments two days after Pompeo called China’s planned security laws for Hong Kong a “death knell” for the territory’s autonomy.
China hits back at US
Reacting to the threat on Monday, China warned the US that Beijing would take countermeasures if Washington insisted on undermining its interests regarding Hong Kong.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters during a briefing that the US was making attempts to harm China’s national security.
He said Beijing had lodged stern representations with Washington over O’Brien’s comments.