Hong Kong will suspend some legal cooperation with U.S., China says

BEIJING (Reuters) – Hong Kong will suspend an agreement on mutual legal assistance with the United States, China’s foreign ministry said on Thursday, in a tit-for-tat response to Washington ending some agreements with Hong Kong.

The U.S. State Department notified Hong Kong on Wednesday that Washington had suspended or terminated three bilateral agreements with the semi-autonomous city following China’s imposition of a sweeping national security law.

“China urges the U.S. to immediately correct its mistakes,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a news briefing on Thursday as he announced the suspension of the agreement on legal assistance.

The agreement, signed in 1997 before Britain returned Hong Kong to China, specified that the United States and Hong Kong governments would help each other in criminal matters such as transferring people in custody or searching and confiscating proceeds of crime.

The U.S. State Department said earlier the three agreements the United States ended covered “the surrender of fugitive offenders, the transfer of sentenced persons, and reciprocal tax exemptions on income derived from the international operation of ships”.

The U.S. decision followed President Donald Trump’s order last month to end Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law to punish China for what he called “oppressive actions” against the former British colony.

Trump signed an executive order that he said would end the preferential economic treatment for the city following the imposition of the draconian new security law.

The national security law punishes anything China considers secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison and has drawn criticism from Western countries that worry the law will end the freedoms promised when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule.

Beijing and the Hong Kong government have defended the law as necessary to restore order and preserve prosperity after months of at times violent anti-government protests last year.

Hong Kong has become another contentious issue between China and the United States, whose relations were already strained by differences over trade, China’s claims in the South China Sea and its treatment of its Muslim Uighur minority.

(Reporting by Yew Lun Tian; Editing by Toby Chopra, Robert Birsel)

U.S. officially notifies Hong Kong it has ended three agreements: State Dept

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said it notified Hong Kong on Wednesday that Washington has suspended or terminated three bilateral agreements with the semi-autonomous city following China’s imposition of a sweeping national security law.

The ending of the agreements follows U.S. President Donald Trump’s order last month to end Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law to punish China for what he called “oppressive actions” against the former British colony.

The State Department said in a statement the agreements ended covered “the surrender of fugitive offenders, the transfer of sentenced persons, and reciprocal tax exemptions on income derived from the international operation of ships.”

“These steps underscore our deep concern regarding Beijing’s decision to impose the National Security Law, which has crushed the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong,” State Department Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said.

Trump signed an executive order last month that he said would end the preferential economic treatment for the city following the imposition of the draconian new national security law.

The legislation punishes anything China considers secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison and has drawn criticism from Western countries that worry the law will end the freedoms promised when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Analysts have said U.S.-China ties have deteriorated to their worst level in decades.

Washington this month imposed sanctions on Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam and other current and former Hong Kong and mainland officials whom Washington accuses of curtailing political freedom in the financial hub.

The U.S. government has also required goods made in the former British colony for export to the United States to be labelled as made in China after Sept. 25.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Susan Heavey and Marguerita Choy)

Hong Kong’s Apple Daily vows to fight on after owner arrested

By Yoyo Chow

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong’s Apple Daily tabloid responded with defiance on Tuesday to the arrest of owner Jimmy Lai under a new national security law imposed by Beijing, promising to fight on in a front-page headline over an image of Lai in handcuffs.

Readers queued from the early hours to get copies of the pro-democracy tabloid a day after police raided its offices and took Lai into detention, the highest-profile arrest under the national law.

“Apple Daily must fight on,” the front-page headline read, amid fears the new law is eroding media freedoms guaranteed when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

“The prayers and encouragement of many readers and writers make us believe that as long as there are readers, there will be writers, and that Apple Daily shall certainly fight on.”

More than 500,000 copies were printed, compared with the usual 100,000, the paper said on its website.

Mainland-born Lai, who was smuggled into Hong Kong on a fishing boat when he was a penniless 12-year-old, is one of the most prominent democracy activists in the city and an ardent critic of Communist Party rule in Beijing.

His arrest comes amid a crackdown on the pro-democracy opposition in Hong Kong that has drawn international criticism and raised fears for freedoms promised by Beijing under a “one country, two systems” formula.

The sweeping security law imposed on June 30 punishes anything China considers secession, subversion, terrorism or collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

The city’s Beijing-backed government and Chinese authorities say the law is necessary to restore order after months of at times violent anti-government protests last year, sparked by fears China was slowly eroding those freedoms.

Hong Kong has since become another source of contention between the United States and China, whose relations were already at their most strained in years over issues including trade, the coronavirus, China’s treatment of its Uighur Muslim minority and its claims in the South China Sea.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday called Lai a “patriot”, saying Beijing had “eviscerated” Hong Kong’s freedoms.

Britain said Lai’s arrest was further evidence the security law was a “pretext to silence opposition”, to which China’s embassy replied by urging London to stop “using freedom of the press as an excuse to discredit” the law.

‘DANCING WITH THE ENEMY’

Police detained Lai for suspected collusion with foreign forces after about 200 officers searched the newspaper’s offices, collecting 25 boxes of evidence.

Handcuffed and apparently wearing the same clothes after spending the night in jail, he was driven by police on Tuesday to his yacht which police searched, according to media footage.

Beijing has labelled Lai a “traitor” in the past and issued a statement supporting his arrest.

The Beijing-backed China Daily newspaper said in an editorial Lai’s arrest showed “the cost of dancing with the enemy.” The paper added that “justice delayed didn’t mean the absence of justice”.

Police arrested 10 people in all on Monday, including other Apple Daily executives and 23-year-old Agnes Chow, one of the former leaders of young activist Joshua Wong’s Demosisto pro-democracy group, which disbanded before the new law came into force.

Chow was released on bail late on Tuesday, calling the arrest of herself and other activists “political persecution.”

“It’s very obvious that the regime is using the national security law to suppress political dissidents,” she said.

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has managed to sustain broad support across the community.

Shares in Next Digital, which publishes Apple Daily, surged for a second day, gaining more than 2,078% from Friday’s close, after online pro-democracy forums called on investors to show support.

Its market value rose as high as HK$5.17 billion ($666.7 million) from some HK$200 million.

In the working-class neighborhood of Mong Kok, dozens of people queued from as early as 2:00 a.m. (1800 GMT) to buy Lai’s paper.

“What the police did yesterday interfered with press freedom brutally,” said 45-year-old Kim Yau as she bought a copy.

“All Hong Kong people with a conscience have to support Hong Kong today, support Apple Daily.”

In another show of support, long queues formed at lunch time at the Cafe Seasons restaurant owned by Lai’s son, Ian, who was also arrested on Monday.

The United States last week imposed sanctions on several top officials over what it said was their role in curtailing political freedoms in Hong Kong. China responded with sanctions on top U.S. legislators and others.

($1 = 7.7501 Hong Kong dollars)

(Additional reporting by Jessie Pang, Carol Mang, Donny Kwok and Clare Jim; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Stephen Coates, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

Hong Kong police raid on newspaper filmed in real time as China flexes muscles

By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Six weeks after China imposed sweeping national security laws on Hong Kong, police moved in on media tycoon Jimmy Lai, one of the most outspoken critics of Beijing in the city.

Lai, 71, was whisked away from his home early on Monday morning by national security police, part of a citywide operation that also saw eight other men arrested, including several of his senior executives.

Then, just before 10 a.m., hundreds of police descended on Lai’s corporate Next Digital headquarters, where his flagship Apple Daily is produced and published.

Staffers said they asked police what legal grounds they had for entering. But these questions were largely ignored as more than 200 police streamed in, according to a live feed of the unfolding drama.

Apple Daily’s Editor-in-Chief Ryan Law, who was helping film and comment on the Facebook live feed, could be seen rushing about the building as he tried to report on events breaking in his own newsroom.

“This is, I believe, the first time in Hong Kong that police have initiated a mass search on a media outlet like this,” he said, panting, as he scaled a back staircase with a colleague to get around the mass of police officers.

As news of the raid spread, more than 10,000 people tuned in, watching as Law defied police warnings to stop filming.

The newsroom was lightly staffed at the time.

But the few employees there, some clad in shorts and sneakers, were told to produce identity documents and register with the police. Some demanded to first see a search warrant.

Some desks were festooned with poster art in support of pro-democracy protests last year, and the Umbrella movement of 2014. One read: “Who’s afraid of the truth!”

More police began arriving, and fanned across the newsroom, following by Law as they meandered through the unmanned cubicles in scattershot fashion, lifting a paper here, plucking a folder from a cabinet there.

“What is the scope of your search area?” one voice was heard shouting off camera. A male officer replied that such inquiries should be put to his supervisors.

Several executive offices, including Lai’s, were sealed off with a red cordon and guarded by police.

PREPARED FOR RAID

Two months before, in an interview with Reuters in one of those sealed rooms, Lai said he was bracing for just such a day: shifting assets abroad and making preparations with lawyers.

“Everything will be piled on us,” he had said.

At around 11 a.m., police led the crew-cut Lai into his office in handcuffs. When he went to the toilet, an entourage of around 20 officers followed. Several other senior executives were also shown being taken into the building.

The police said in a statement that they had a court-issued warrant for their search, and that the nine men had all been arrested for suspected national security law violations, including collusion with foreign powers.

The police did not reveal the names or any specific charges for any of those arrested.

The raid, though expected, rattled some staffers.

Months before the law took effect, the newspaper had shredded documents, uploaded digitized files to overseas servers and safeguarded sources, two senior reporters told Reuters, speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the situation.

“I had prepared myself mentally for this,” one said. “But emotionally I feel a little conflicted. It’s happened so quickly. The government is finally taking this drastic step to destroy the city’s media freedoms.”

Police carted 25 boxes of evidence from the building and blocked reporters from other outlets from entering.

Senior police on the scene tried at one point to prevent Apple Daily reporters working at their desks, but relented upon fierce objections from staff present.

Law, Apple Daily’s chief editor, said the paper would continue to be published no matter what.

“Business as usual,” he said in a text message to Reuters.

(Additional reporting by Greg Torode and Jessie Pang; Editing by Gerry Doyle and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

Unofficial Hong Kong vote sees new generation take over battle for democracy

By Jessie Pang and Yanni Chow

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A younger, more defiant generation of Hong Kong democrats has secured the most votes in unofficial primary elections in the Chinese-ruled city, setting the stage for a battle with pro-Beijing politicians for control of the city’s legislature.

The success of young contenders in the primaries organized by the pro-democracy camp on the weekend to pick candidates for a Sept. 6 election for a 70-seat city assembly comes amid widespread resentment of a national security law that Beijing imposed last month.

Beijing denounced the vote as illegal and warned it may have violated the new security law, which has raised fears for the freedoms that have underpinned Hong Kong’s open society and success as a financial hub.

Prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong won in his district, but he has been disqualified from previous elections and could face similar hurdles this time.

Wong warned against any sweeping disqualification of candidates when he held a news conference with 15 other young politicians who won in their districts.

“If the government cracks down on us and disqualifies all the candidates who joined the primaries, it will cause more outrage in the international community and encourage more people to vote for the pro-democratic camp in September,” Wong said.

The 16 – all but one under 30 and dressed in black T-shirts – are part of a so-called localist or resistance camp, which outshone the cohort of traditional democrats, which had secured 12 candidate slots as of Wednesday afternoon.

Full results are expected later in the day.

The localists – a term for those who do not see themselves as Chinese and focus on saving the former British colony’s freedoms – tend to be more assertive than traditional democrats.

The localists talk of resistance and saving democracy but they do not all have the same vision for Hong Kong’s future. Some dream of independence – anathema for Beijing – but do not speak of it openly, which would see them fall foul of the new security law and face up to life in prison.

Their performance in the primaries reflects frustration, especially among younger voters, with Hong Kong’s more moderate, traditional pro-democracy politicians.

“Localism has become the mainstream,” said localist candidate Henry Wong. “We will resist against the tyranny.”

The new security law punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison and sees Chinese intelligence agents operating officially in the city for the first time.

Critics fear it will crush wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, while supporters say it will bring stability after a year of often violent anti-government protests.

‘DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND’

The law has already had a chilling effect on many aspects of life.

Earlier on Wednesday, former democracy lawmaker Au Nok-hin said he was pulling out as an organizer of the weekend vote amid accusations from Beijing that it was illegal.

“Withdrawal is the only choice … (to) protect myself and others,” Au said in a Facebook post.

A spokesman for Beijing’s top office in the city, the Hong Kong Liaison Office, said the pro-democracy camp’s bid for a legislative majority was an attempt to carry out a “color revolution,” referring to uprisings in other parts of the world.

In comments that critics said were aimed at instilling fear, the Liaison Office as well as Chinese government’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office and the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, have all said the primaries could violate the national security law.

Benny Tai, another organizer of the pro-democracy polls, was defiant.

“For those who do not recognize democracy, or do not agree with democratic values, it is difficult to understand the meaning of the primary election,” Tai said.

Hong Kong police on Wednesday arrested the vice chairman of the city’s Democratic Party, Lo Kin-hei, on charges of unlawful assembly related to a protest in November.

The political tension in Hong Kong has alarmed the business community while the new law has raised concern in countries that support the “one country, two systems” formula of government meant to safeguard its freedoms.

On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law to punish China for what he called “oppressive actions” against the city.

China said it would impose retaliatory sanctions on U.S. individuals and entities after Trump signed a law penalizing banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement the new law.

In an interview with state agency Xinhua, Chief Executive Lam said U.S. sanctions won’t hurt Hong Kong and in time, concern about the security law would prove unfounded.

In another blow to the city’s standing, the New York Times said it would shift part of its Hong Kong office to Seoul, as worries grow that the security law will curb media and other freedoms.

(Additional reporting by Aleksander Solum; Writing by Farah Master, Anne Marie Roantree and Marius Zaharia; Editing by Michael Perry, Robert Birsel)

China vows retaliation after Trump ends preferential status for Hong Kong

By Jeff Mason and Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump on Tuesday ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law to punish China for what he called “oppressive actions” against the former British colony, prompting Beijing to warn of retaliatory sanctions.

Citing China’s decision to enact a new national security law for Hong Kong, Trump signed an executive order that he said would end the preferential economic treatment for the city.

“No special privileges, no special economic treatment and no export of sensitive technologies,” he told a news conference.

Acting on a Tuesday deadline, he also signed a bill approved by the U.S. Congress to penalize banks doing business with Chinese officials who implement the new security law.

“Today I signed legislation, and an executive order to hold China accountable for its aggressive actions against the people of Hong Kong, Trump said.

“Hong Kong will now be treated the same as mainland China,” he added.

Under the executive order, U.S. property would be blocked of any person determined to be responsible for or complicit in “actions or policies that undermine democratic processes or institutions in Hong Kong,” according to the text of the document released by the White House.

It also directs officials to “revoke license exceptions for exports to Hong Kong,” and includes revoking special treatment for Hong Kong passport holders.

China’s foreign ministry said on Wednesday Beijing will impose retaliatory sanctions against U.S. individuals and entities in response to the law targeting banks, though the statement released through state media did not reference the executive order.

“Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s internal affairs and no foreign country has the right to interfere,” the ministry said.

Critics of the security law fear it will crush the wide-ranging freedoms promised to Hong Kong when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997, while supporters say it will bring stability to the city after a year of sometimes violent anti-government protests.

The security law punishes what Beijing broadly defines as subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison.

U.S. relations with China have already been strained over the global coronavirus pandemic, China’s military buildup in the South China Sea, its treatment of Uighur Muslims and massive trade surpluses.

Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic has raised doubts about whether he can win re-election on Nov. 3 amid a surge of new infections. He has attempted to deflect blame onto China.

“Make no mistake. We hold China fully responsible for concealing the virus and unleashing it upon the world. They could have stopped it, they should have stopped it. It would have been very easy to do at the source, when it happened,” he said.

Asked if he planned to talk to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Trump said: “I have no plans to speak to him.”

DOUBLE-EDGED SWORD?

Analysts say that completely ending Hong Kong’s special treatment could prove self-defeating for the United States.

Hong Kong was the source of the largest bilateral U.S. goods trade surplus last year, at $26.1 billion, U.S. Census Bureau data shows.

According to the State Department, 85,000 U.S. citizens lived in Hong Kong in 2018 and more than 1,300 U.S. companies operate there, including nearly every major U.S. financial firm.

The territory is a major destination for U.S. legal and accounting services.

The United States began eliminating Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law in late June, halting defense exports and restricting the territory’s access to high-technology products as China prepared to enact the security legislation.

In May, Trump responded to China’s plans for the security law by saying he was initiating a process to eliminate the special economic treatment that has allowed Hong Kong to remain a global financial center.

He stopped short then of calling for an immediate end to privileges, but said the moves would affect the full range of U.S. agreements with Hong Kong, from an extradition treaty to export controls on dual-use technologies.

A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the administration was also preparing sanctions against Chinese officials and entities involved in the Hong Kong crackdown, including further U.S. travel bans and possible Treasury sanctions.

The timing remained unclear. The White House has previously threatened such sanctions but so far has only imposed restrictions on visas for an unspecified number of unnamed Chinese officials.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom, Alexandra Alper, Patricia Zengerle, Eric Beech, Makini Brice and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Leslie Adler and Peter Cooney)

Hong Kong leader says pro-democracy ‘protest’ vote might have violated new security laws

By Jessie Pang and James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said on Monday that an unofficial city-wide election conducted by the pro-democracy camp over the weekend might have violated new national security laws by “subverting state power”.

The weekend election drew more than 600,000 votes, in what democrats described as a symbolic protest vote against tough new laws imposed by Beijing on the freewheeling former British colony.

The vote at around 250 polling stations was held to decide the strongest pro-democracy candidates to contest key Legislative Council elections in September.

The city’s opposition camp is aiming to seize majority control in the 70-seat legislature for the first time from pro-Beijing rivals by riding a wave of anti-China sentiment stirred by the law, which critics say has gravely undermined Hong Kong’s freedoms.

The city returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with a guarantee of wide-ranging autonomy.

The new law punishes secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison and allows mainland Chinese security agents to operate officially in Hong Kong for the first time.

Lam told reporters that if the democrats’ aim to gain a legislative majority was to obstruct government policies, “then it may fall into the category of subverting the state power”. She didn’t elaborate.

One of the organizers of the election, Benny Tai, told reporters that the results of the poll had been leaked ahead of an official announcement. But he said there had been no personal data breach of the voters.

Last Friday, Hong Kong police raided the office of the independent pollster helping with the election, and officers copied some information from computers there.

Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said in a statement late on Monday that it had received public complaints that the weekend poll may have “jeopardized the integrity of the electoral process”.

It added it was now conducting an investigation and might later refer the case to law enforcement agencies.

The preliminary results showed several incumbent democratic lawmakers like Ted Hui and Eddie Chu taking the most votes in some districts.

But a group of aspiring young democrats, or “localists”, also performed strongly, reflecting a potential changing of the guard as the democrats gear up for the September poll.

“It’s just the beginning,” one candidate, Sunny Cheung, a runner-up in one district putting him on the democratic ticket for September, told Reuters.

“I will try to persuade more people to support us,” he added, saying localists like himself were gaining more mainstream support.

(Reporting by Jessie Pang and James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie)

U.S. tech giants face hard choices under Hong Kong’s new security law

By Brenda Goh and Pei Li

SHANGHAI/HONG KONG (Reuters) – U.S. tech giants face a reckoning over how Hong Kong’s security law will reshape their businesses, with their suspension of processing government requests for user data a stop-gap measure as they weigh options, people close to the industry say.

While Hong Kong is not a significant market for firms such as Facebook, Google and Twitter, they have used it as a perch to reach deep-pocketed advertisers in mainland China, where many of their services are blocked. But the companies are now in the cross hairs of a national security law that gives China authority to demand that they turn over user data or censor content seen to violate the law – even when posted from abroad.

“These companies have to totally reassess the liability of having a presence in Hong Kong,” Charles Mok, a legislator who represents the technology industry in Hong Kong, told Reuters.

If they refuse to cooperate with government requests, he said, authorities “could go after them and take them to court and fine them, or imprison their principals in Hong Kong”.

Facebook, Google and Twitter have suspended processing government requests for user data in Hong Kong, they said on Monday, following China’s imposition of the new national security law on the semi-autonomous city.

Facebook, which started operating in Hong Kong in 2010, last year opened a big new office in the city.

It sells more than $5 billion a year worth of ad space to Chinese businesses and government agencies looking to promote messages abroad, Reuters reported in January. That makes China Facebook’s biggest country for revenue after the United States.

The U.S. internet firms are no strangers to governments demands regarding content and user information, and generally say they are bound by local laws.

The companies have often used a technique known as “geo-blocking” to restrict content in a particular country without removing it altogether.

But the sweeping language of Hong Kong’s new law could mean such measures won’t be enough. Authorities will no longer need to get court orders before requesting assistance or information, analysts said.

Requests for data about overseas users would put the companies in an especially tough spot.

“It’s a global law … if they comply with national security law in Hong Kong then there is the problem that they may violate laws in other countries,” said Francis Fong Po-kiu, honorary president of Hong Kong’s Information Technology Federation.

CONTENT QUESTION

While the U.S. social media services are blocked in mainland China, they have operated freely in Hong Kong.

Other U.S. internet platforms are also rich with content that is banned in mainland China and may now be judged illegal in Hong Kong.

U.S. video streaming site Netflix, for example, carries “Joshua: Teenager vs. Superpower”, a 2017 documentary on activist Joshua Wong whose books were removed from Hong Kong public libraries last week.

“Ten Years”, a 2015 film that has been criticized by Chinese state media for portraying a dystopian future Hong Kong under Chinese Communist Party control, is also available on its platform.

Netflix declined to comment.

Google’s YouTube is a popular platform for critics of Beijing. New York-based fugitive tycoon Guo Wengui has regularly voiced support for Hong Kong protesters in his videos. Google did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

None of these companies has yet said how they will handle requests from Hong Kong to block or remove content, and the risk of being caught in political crossfire looms large.

“The foreign content players have to rethink what they display in Hong Kong,” said Duncan Clark, chairman at consultancy BDA China.

“The downside is very big if they get U.S. senators on their backs for accommodating. Any move they make will be heavily scrutinized.”

(Reporting by Brenda Goh and Pei Li; Additional reporting by Cate Cadell in Beijing and Anne Marie Roantree in Hong Kong; Editing by Jonathan Weber and Robert Birsel)

U.S. says ‘deeply concerned’ by Beijing’s detention of Chinese law professor

Flags of U.S. and China are displayed at American International Chamber of Commerce (AICC)'s booth during China International Fair for Trade in Services in Beijing, China, May 28, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee

By Humeyra Pamuk

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday said it was deeply concerned about China’s detention of Xu Zhangrun, a law professor who has been an outspoken critic of the ruling Communist Party, and urged Beijing to release him.

Xu, 57, a professor at the prestigious Tsinghua University, came to prominence in July 2018 for denouncing the removal of the two-term limit for China’s leader, which allows Xi to remain in office beyond his current second term.

According to a text message circulated among Xu’s friends and seen by Reuters, he was taken from his house in suburban Beijing on Monday morning by more than 20 policemen, who also searched his house and confiscated his computer.

“We are deeply concerned by the PRC’s detention of Professor Xu Zhangrun for criticizing Chinese leaders amid tightening ideological controls on university campuses in China. The PRC must release Xu and uphold its international commitments to respect freedom of expression,” U.S. State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus wrote in a tweet.

The detention comes as a new national security law came into effect in Hong Kong last week. The sweeping legislation that Beijing imposed on the former British colony punishes what China defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with up to life in prison.

Critics say the aim of the law is to stamp out a pro-democracy movement that brought months of protests, at times violent, to the city last year.

The imposition of the new law further deteriorated ties between Washington and Beijing, which had been at loggerheads for months over the handling of the coronavirus pandemic and a nearly two-year trade war.

On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States is “certainly looking at” banning Chinese social media apps, including TikTok, suggesting it shared information with the Chinese government, a charge it denied.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Sandra Maler and Alistair Bell)

Hong Kong court denies bail to first person charged under new law

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Hong Kong court denied bail on Monday to the first person charged with inciting separatism and terrorism under the city’s new national security law after he carried a sign saying “Liberate Hong Kong” and drove his motorbike into police.

Tong Ying-kit, 23, was arrested after a video posted online showed him knocking over several officers at a demonstration last Wednesday, less than 24 hours after Beijing imposed sweeping national security legislation on its freest city.

The city’s government has said the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times”, connotes separatism or subversion under the new law, stoking concern over freedom of expression in the former British colony.

Tong, who was unable to appear in court on Friday as he was being treated in hospital for injuries sustained in the incident, appeared in court in a wheelchair.

In rejecting bail, Chief Magistrate So Wai-tak referred to Article 42 of the new law, which states that bail will not be granted if the judge has sufficient grounds to believe the defendant will continue to endanger national security.

The case was adjourned until Oct. 6 and Tong was remanded in custody.

Critics say the law – which punishes crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison – is aimed at crushing dissent and a long-running campaign for greater democracy.

Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said it is aimed at a few “troublemakers” and will not affect the rights and freedoms that underpin the city’s role as a financial hub.

Also on Monday, prominent democracy activist Joshua Wong pleaded not guilty to inciting others to participate in an unlawful assembly during anti-government protests last year.

Fellow activist Agnes Chow pleaded guilty to a similar charge. Their case has been adjourned to Aug. 5.

Wong and Chow, who were both granted bail last year, led a pro-democracy group called Demosisto that they dissolved hours after Beijing passed the national security law.

The United States, Britain and others have denounced the new legislation, which critics say is the biggest step China has taken to tighten its grip over the city, despite a “one country, two systems” formula meant to preserve its freedoms.

(Reporting By Jessie Pang and Pak Yiu; Writing by Anne Marie Roantree; Editing by Robert Birsel; Editing by Robert Birsel)