Hong Kong lawmakers clash as pro-Beijing camp elects chair

Hong Kong lawmakers clash as pro-Beijing camp elects chair

Tensions between the two countries have climbed amid the coronavirus pandemic with Washington frequently accusing Beijing of having conducted a coverup of its initial outbreak and of not being forthcoming with the information it has about the virus.

The arrest of 15 activists in April, including veteran politicians, a publishing tycoon and senior barristers, thrust the protest movement back into the spotlight and drew condemnation from Washington and worldwide rights groups.

The US-China standoff escalated in March after Beijing said it would expel several journalists from three US publications and bar them from working in Hong Kong after Washington labeled Chinese state news outlets in the US as foreign agents.

Fighting erupted in the House Committee, a body that helps scrutinize bills, with protesting pro-democracy lawmakers dragged from the chamber by security guards and scuffles between rival camps flared up on the chamber floor. Beijing has accused Kwok of blocking numerous bills from going to the full legislature for a vote, including a bill that will make it a criminal offense to disrespect China's national anthem.

It is the second time in a fortnight that clashes have broken out as pro-democracy supporters try to scupper a law that bans insulting China's national anthem.

On Monday, the pro-Beijing camp installed its own committee chair, armed with external legal opinion saying they had the power to end the deadlock.

On Monday - before the Legislative Council began - Mr Chan was in the chairman's seat, surrounded by more than 20 security guards. "Pro-communist Starry Lee is unanimously elected as chairperson".

In 1997, Britain returned Hong Kong to China.

The move "highlights how Beijing aims to reassert control over Hong Kong", said political and corporate risk consultant Steve Vickers, the CEO of Steve Vickers and Associates.

Millions hit the streets previous year for seven months of pro-democracy rallies that often spun out into clashes between police and petrol bomb wielding protesters.

Beijing has made clear it wants new security legislation passed after last year's unrest, including an anti-sedition law, the national anthem bill - and more patriotic education in schools.

Also Monday, 15 pro-democracy figures, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai, appeared in court to face charges relating to months of anti-government protests a year ago sparked by an extradition bill that has since been withdrawn.

Liao acknowledged the bill could spark social unrest.

Late previous year, President Donald Trump signed legislation in response to the treatment of Hong Kong protesters by Chinese authorities that requires the State Department to annually assess whether the territory's level of autonomy from China justifies its special trade status under US law. The scrape in the chamber came as legislators fought over who would lead a committee that was key to how the bill would progress through the Legislative Council, the BBC said.

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