A riot policewoman stands on a cordoned-off street following overnight clashes between protesters and police in the Mong Kok area of Hong Kong on February 9, 2016. Photo: AFP
Beijing's top envoy in Hong Kong has taken a tough stand on last week's violent incident in Mong Kok, comparing the rioters to "radical separatists".
After attending a Spring Festival reception on February 14, Zhang Xiaoming, head of the Chinese central government's liaison office in Hong Kong, said, "After the Mong Kok riot, we, like many Hong Kong citizens, felt very shocked and distressed…We strongly condemn the violent crimes of…committed by those mobs."
The overnight sabotage starting from the evening of February 8, which broke out when the authorities tried to remove unlicensed food stalls set up for the Chinese New Year celebration on a junction of Mong Kok, one of Hong Kong's busiest districts, has seen 65 people arrested on rioting and other charges.
The outrage by the "radical separatists" can be characterized as "terrorism", said Zhang, who also condemned the "double dutch" calling the black as white and suggesting that the riot was justifiable.
Zhang's statement was echoed by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, who said that the thugs were almost jobless and members of extreme political organizations and that they could not represent the majority in Hong Kong. The chief executive called on the public and political parties not to justify the violence.
On February 14, 40 youth representatives from all walks of life in Hong Kong issued an anti-violence manifesto, criticizing the rioters for marring the city's core value and legal system.
The Mong Kok riot is the latest instance of street violence since the Occupy Central protest in late 2014, in which demonstrators blocked roads and paralyzed Hong Kong's financial district for months to press Beijing to adopt Western standards in the chief executive and Legislative Council elections in 2017 and 2020 respectively.
Zhu Jie, a law professor from Wuhan University, said that the Mong Kok riot reflects the trend of the pro-independence forces going to the extreme in Hong Kong, which could likely develop into "urban terrorism" if the local government cannot handle it seriously.
"The Mong Kok riot is by no means an accidental event, as it is, to some extent, a corollary of the growth of pro-independence forces. The trend needs close attention," said Zhu. Extreme populism serves as the theoretical basis for the violence, noted Zhu.
In 2014, a magazine run by the University of Hong Kong published an article inciting Hong Kong men to launch an armed revolution to get independence from the Chinese mainland.
Chen Duanhong, a law professor from Peking University, defined some Hong Kong people's hostility toward Chinese mainlanders as a kind of "extreme nativism", which has been abused to defy Chinese rule under the "one nation, two systems" principle.
Hong Kong is increasingly deviating from what it used to be, with ultras attempting to build a "new Hong Kong" by overturning the current political regime by force, said Hong Kong expert Wang Zhenmin.
The Mong Kok riot has sparked a heated discussion on whether or not Hong Kong needs to enact its own national security legislation under Article 23 of the Basic Law.
According to Article 23, Hong Kong has its own authority to enact laws to prohibit any act of treason, secession, sedition and subversion against the central government and theft of state secrets; to prohibit foreign political organizations or bodies from conducting political activities in the region; and to prohibit local political organizations or bodies from establishing ties with foreign counterparts.
In a recent television interview, Lau Siu-kai, vice chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, stressed the importance of enacting legislation under Article 23 as soon as possible, as the localism and pro-independence ideologies, though limited in appeal at present, can pit Hong Kong against the Chinese mainland.
"If legislation under Article 23 cannot be realized in a faster way, the central government would see Hong Kong as a threat to the national security in some respects," said Lau.
Leung has said that his government has no plan to legislate under Article 23.
On February 14, Zhang said that the Mong Kok riot and the enactment of Hong Kong's own national security law were not related at present.
Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), said that legislation under Article 23 will make no contribution to solving the problems in Hong Kong. Lee suggested that Leung's government might as well put how to deal with the youth who hold a pro-independence view on the front burner.
In 2003, the proposal for legislation under Article 23 raised by the then Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa-led government triggered a large-scale protest joined by some 500,000 people on the Hong Kong handover anniversary day.
Some analysts said that the public opposition to the legislation stems from the fear of limiting the freedom of speech.