But the opposition opposition movement in Hong Kong is currently facing the prospect of Beijing imposing its will whatever they think.
“They are in contact with the democracy movement,” pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said. “All fear, despair, antipathy is now being answered by national security law.”
Stunned and saddened, many protesters on Friday seemed demoralized and unsure of their next move. While some on social media called for rallies or singalongs, some organizers said they would focus on events planned for the coming days. These demonstrations included a rally scheduled for Sunday to protest a separate drive by Hong Kong officials to acknowledge the disrespect of China̵7;s national anthem.
External signs of resistance were muted on Friday. At noon, about two dozen protesters marched from a police station on the west side of Hong Kong to China’s Liaison Office, representing the mainland government’s interest in semiautonomous territory. As they walked, they sang, “One country, two systems dead” and “Hong Kong the next Xinjiang” – a reference to the region in northwest China where authorities carried out a widespread crackdown on predominantly Muslim minority groups.
Police officials quickly ordered the protesters, more elected officials, to stop. Citing the flight restrictions on the society, the police later combined them into two groups and issued a formal warning. The march lasted about three minutes.
“With every new blow, you feel like you’re inevitably going to happen,” Lo Kin-hei, a district council member who joined the march, said China’s grip on the territory.
Chinese leaders, who were outraged over months of protests last year, turned in Thursday night to directly protest, instead of maneuvering through the handpicked Hong Kong government. Chinese officials say the country’s legislative body will impose national security laws in Hong Kong, a semi-independent territory, after nearly two decades of waiting for the Hong Kong government to enact them.
Carrie Lam, the city’s chief executive, elected by the central government, said in a statement that the proposed security laws would “ensure the long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong.” They will also avoid dangerous situations that “the political and business sectors in Hong Kong and members of the public are worried about last year,” he said.
Supporters of the central government have denied that national security laws will abolish Hong Kong’s autonomy.
“This is certainly not the culmination of ‘one nation, two systems,'” said Andrew Leung, a pro-Beijing lawmaker who heads the city council, the main lawmaker.
Last year, protesters gathered in large numbers. After the Hong Kong government introduced a bill that would allow extraditions in mainland China, city residents – fearing the bill would be used to curb decent – have moved to some of the biggest protests in the city’s history. Hundreds of thousands filled some of Hong Kong’s busiest streets.
Hong Kong’s reaction to the Chinese government’s plan is unlikely to remain muted for long. Many in the anti-Beijing camp said they believed the protests would turn into mushrooms while social measures were easy. The Hong Kong government has recently extended the restrictions to June 4.
City democracy activists have also emphasized that the details of Beijing’s plan remain unclear and that any law is likely to go into effect for months, giving them time to act.
“Next week, the main thing will be the national anthem, but in the coming months, the main thing will be the national security law,” said Agnes Chow, a prominent student activist. “I believe there will be many protests in the coming weeks and months.”
But protesters also acknowledged that the ends of the protests have shifted, now that they are doing direct fighting in Beijing, rather than its proxies with the local government.
Although the Hong Kong election system is structured to give pro-Beijing voices an outsized say to the government, limited territorial autonomy from China – formed on the principle of “one country, two systems” – has given the opposition some opposition. Mass protests and statewide lawsuits have helped anti-Beijing groups block some of the laws they fear, by relying on Hong Kong’s expressed respect for the rule of law and freedom of speech civil.
The Communist Party’s decision to go beyond the Hong Kong government has signaled that the avenues have been greatly reduced, pro-democracy said.
Ms. Mo, the lawmaker, said the opposition would continue to thwart Beijing’s efforts to expand its control over Hong Kong. But he said he expects the local legislature to have no say in how security laws are created.
Wilson Leung, a founding member of the Hong Kong Attorney’s Program, a pro-democracy association, said national security laws could allow authorities to criminalize the opposition even when trying to fix it.
“I think the only hope is that the world will wake up and put enough pressure on Beijing to really come back,” Mr. Leung said.
While appeals to the international community formed a major part of last year’s protesters’ message, they were apparently well-known on Friday. Lee Cheuk-Yan, a former Hong Kong legislator and organizer of the city’s annual commemoration of the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, said Beijing’s action was a clear test for the international community.
“They challenge the world: ‘Do you have anything to do for Hong Kong?'” Mr. Lee said at a news conference. “This is a challenge to the values of the world.”
Some U.S. senators have called for sanctions on Chinese officials pursuing security laws, and the Trump administration has warned Beijing against violating Hong Kong’s autonomy. A spokesperson for the European Union also said officials have been “following closely” developments related to national security laws.
This feeling of powerlessness can leave the opposition faced with basic questions about its capabilities and goals.
“It’s going to be very demoralizing. You’re wondering what their raison d’être is,” said Antony Dapiran, a lawyer and author of “City on Fire: The Fight for Hong Kong,” a book about protest. “The big thing that they were acting as a guard to prevent was kind of happening. What was left for them?
But there are signs that protesters’ initial hopes are in line with the new plans. Although some protesters deleted their accounts on Telegram, a popular messaging app used to organize protests, others renewed calls to attend protests planned for the weekend. The Civil Human Rights Front, a pro-democracy umbrella group that organized some of the biggest marches last year, said it is planning an event it hopes to reach more than two million people.
“It’s very difficult to predict the size of the movement,” Ms. Chow, the student activist. “But I believe the people in Hong Kong will come out and fight.”
Tiffany Mayo, Ezra Cheung and Elaine Yu contributed to the reporting.