Tensions simmer in Hong Kong as controversial anthem law back up for debate


© Reuters. A pro-democracy demonstrator waves the British colonial Hong Kong flag during a protest against new national security legislation in Hong Kong

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong lawmakers are set to resume a debate on Wednesday over a controversial bill that would make disrespecting China’s national anthem a criminal offence, as the city ramps up for fresh protests amid simmering anti-government tensions.

An annual vigil to mark the June 4, 1989, anniversary of Chinese troops opening fire on pro-democracy students in and around Tiananmen Square (NYSE:) has been cancelled for the first time ever due to the coronavirus but activists still plan to rally.

The ban comes on the heels of China’s plan to directly impose national security laws on Hong Kong, a move that has drawn international condemnation and revived anti-government demonstrations in the former British colony.

On Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Beijing’s decision would “dramatically” erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the United Kingdom is prepared to change its immigration rules to accommodate Hong Kong residents.

Even before China announced its plan for the security law, there was a surge in renewals of British National Overseas Passports by Hong Kong residents, while immigration consultants have reported a rush of inquiries from people looking to move overseas.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam accused foreign governments on Tuesday of “double standards” in their reaction to Beijing’s plans. Lam, along with officials from the justice and security departments, arrives in Beijing on Wednesday to discuss the new legislation.

Some companies, including HSBC Holdings (LON:), have come under pressure to support the national security law, with former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying calling out the global bank for not making its “stance” clear on the legislation.

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On Wednesday, Jardines Group, one of Hong Kong’s original foreign trading houses, published a full-page statement in pro-Beijing newspaper Ta Kung Pao saying it was important to enact a legal framework to safeguard the city’s national security.

“It can ensure that Hong Kong continues to absorb investment, increase job opportunities and guarantee people’s livelihood,” Jardines said in the statement.

The group’s flagship company, Jardine Matheson Holdings, is listed in Singapore.

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