China has backed Hong Kong’s move to exclude pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong from elections for local councillors, a decision which is likely to fuel further public anger in the semi-autonomous city.
The statement from the Chinese cabinet’s Hong Kong and Macao affairs office came as Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam warned of the economic damage caused by months of anti-government protests.
She added that the government would not address underlying social and economic concerns until the violence stops.
Hong Kong’s economy has been badly affected by the ongoing unrest, with the government saying visitor numbers have fallen by half and retail sales are down by 25% in recent months against the same period last year.
Mr Wong, 23, has been repeatedly arrested for his activism, but has not played a major role in the current protests that began in June and have grown more violent.
Despite that, China’s Communist leaders have targeted him as part of accusations that foreign powers are colluding with anti-Chinese separatists to foment unrest.
The cabinet office statement, citing spokesman Yang Guang, said it “agreed and supported” the decision by the Hong Kong elections office, saying Mr Wong had been “constantly pleading with foreign powers for intervention” in the territory’s affairs.
Mr Wong’s advocacy “challenged the bottom line of the principle of ‘one country, two systems,'” the office said, referring to the governing framework under which Hong Kong was handed over from British to Chinese rule in 1997.
Mr Wong is “one of the chief culprits in the plot to undermine Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability and fundamentally does not meet the requirements of adhering to (Hong Kong’s mini-constitution) and showing loyalty to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region that are demanded of a candidate for office,” the statement said.
He had disclosed his disqualification as a candidate in the November 24 local district council elections on Tuesday. Mr Wong called the decision politically driven and said it would backfire.
“It will just trigger more and more Hong Kongers to take to the street and also vote in the election,” he said.
In a speech to a trade conference, Ms Lam said it was a “distressing time for Hong Kong trade and business” and that the violence must end.
“Once calmness returns, we are committed to finding solutions to some of those deep-seated problems revealed by the extensive protests over these past four months,” she said.