HONG KONG - Hong Kong independence activist Andy Chan attacked China as an empire trying to “annex” and “destroy” the city in a no-holds barred speech Tuesday at the city’s press club which Beijing wanted canceled.
Rival protesters gathered outside the venue and a small group of pro-independence activists clashed with police, saying they had been given no space for their rally, while dozens of pro-Beijing supporters chanted slogans including “gas the spies!”
Chan described Beijing as semi-autonomous Hong Kong’s “colonial master” in his speech to a packed audience at the city’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club.
“We are a nation that is quickly being annexed and destroyed by China,” he said, in a lunch address entitled “Hong Kong Nationalism: A Politically Incorrect Guide to Hong Kong under Chinese Rule.”
The Hong Kong office of China’s Foreign Ministry, which had requested the club pull the talk, quickly hit back.
“If the Hong Kong Foreign Correspondents’ Club wouldn’t invite racists, anti-semites, terrorists and Nazis to give speeches, why would the HKFCC, in Chinese territory, openly invite a leader of ‘Hong Kong independence’ to give speeches on ‘Hong Kong independence’?” it said in a statement.
The ministry accused the FCC of taking a stance by providing a platform for the independence movement and “touching the most sensitive nerves of 1.4 billion Chinese including the 7 million Hong Kong comrades.”
The Hong Kong government said that while it backed freedom of speech and the press, allowing Chan to speak contravened the city’s mini-constitution and was “totally inappropriate and unacceptable.”
Hong Kong enjoys freedom of speech and assembly unseen on the mainland under a handover agreement between Britain and China.
But Beijing has become increasingly intolerant of any mention of independence for Hong Kong as President Xi Jinping emphasizes territorial integrity as key to China’s resurgence.
Pro-Beijing lawmakers Tuesday afternoon called for the club to be kicked out of its premises, which are leased to it by the government.
Chan said that he had been under increased “surveillance” by groups of people he did not know, who had been following him and knocking on his family’s door to take pictures of them in the lead-up to the speech.
Chan heads the tiny Hong Kong National Party and had slipped from public view in the last two years until police sought a ban on his party last month and Beijing sought to cancel his talk.
The club said Chan had been invited to give a lunchtime address because the issue of independence had been brought to the fore again by the potential ban, which would be a first for Hong Kong since it was handed back to China by Britain in 1997.
The FCC stood by its decision, saying that different views should be heard in any debate.
Any talk of independence infuriates Beijing even though it has limited support in the city.
Chan accused Beijing of “national cleansing” in Hong Kong, which he said was a “separate entity” with its own culture and way of life.
He called on Britain and the United States to help Hong Kong and said Taiwan was an inspiration for his party as it had gone from a dictatorship to a democracy.
China still sees self-ruling Taiwan as part of its territory, to be reunified by force if necessary.
Police last month requested the security bureau ban Chan’s party, saying it was a potential threat to national security and public safety. Chan’s party was given until September 4 to make representations.
Chan was also banned from standing for office in 2016.
Asked about whether Chan agreed with calls from some in the independence movement for radical action, he said he “condemned violence.”
Speaking to reporters after the event, Chan said it was a “good question” whether he would be able to make such public remarks again.
His talk was part of the FCC’s “club lunch” tradition which has seen an array of speakers, including Chinese officials, speak to members and the media.