Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Tuesday that a Hong Kong human rights bill before U.S. Congress is an inappropriate and unnecessary interference in the territory's affairs.
The bipartisan bill, introduced to both the House of Representatives and the Senate in June, seeks to empower the U.S. government to block entry to officials in China and Hong Kong responsible for suppressing basic freedoms in Hong Kong, and to freeze their assets in the United States.
Deliberations on the bill, known as the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, could begin soon, possibly this month.
Tens of thousands of people marched outside the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong on Sunday calling for the bill's swift passage in Congress.
"The Hong Kong government does not recognize and expresses regret to parliament in foreign countries interfering in Hong Kong affairs through a bill," Hong Kong's chief executive told reporters on Tuesday before a weekly Cabinet meeting.
"Hong Kong is a special administration region under the People's Republic of China. Any interference by foreign parliaments is extremely inappropriate, and we will not permit them to be a stakeholder in Hong Kong's internal affairs," she said.
Popular protests spurred by the government's bid to pass a contentious bill to allow extraditions to mainland China have continued even after Lam suspended the legislative move in June.
Protesters' demands have grown to include not just the bill's full withdrawal but an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality during protests, amnesty for arrested protesters and democratic reforms.
As protests came close to entering their fourth month, Lam said last Wednesday that the bill will be withdrawn from the legislature.
The bill, which would allow transfer of fugitives to mainland China and other jurisdictions with which Hong Kong lacks extradition arrangements, proved deeply unpopular, partly because of fears that residents and visitors whom China considers its political opponents could be sent to the mainland for prosecution.
While the territory's richest tycoon, Li Ka-shing, recently urged authorities to be lenient toward the young protesters, Lam remained firm Tuesday about pursuing criminal responsibility from any lawbreakers.
"The rule of law is Hong Kong's core value. Any illegal behavior should not be condoned by the government," Lam said, while reiterating that she is willing to talk to all, including the protesters, to ease the deadlock.
Besides announcing the bill's withdrawal, Lam has beefed up the territory's Independent Police Complaints Council to handle complaints against police, planned dialogues with communities and formed an expert study group on the unrest.
These measures are meant "not directly to stop these protests or the violence" but to "extend my sincerity to start a dialogue with the people," she said. "To mend the rift in society and to bring back peace, we are very willing to engage people directly in a dialogue."
She said, however, that the priority is to stop the violence perpetrated by protesters.
Despite Lam's efforts, protest against the bill continued as soccer fans attending the World Cup qualifier between Hong Kong and Iran late Tuesday at the Hong Kong Stadium booed the Chinese national anthem played before the match, while some sang a song specifically composed for the movement called "Glory to Hong Kong."
They chanted "Liberate Hong Kong! Revolution of our times!" and "Stand with Hong Kong! Fight for freedom!"
At halftime, some of the fans turned on their cellphone lights while others held hands to form a human chain in support of the movement.
Riot police were seen deployed inside the nearby Causeway Bay subway station in case chaos broke out.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticized German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas for meeting with Hong Kong young activist Joshua Wong while attending an event commemorating the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.
Hua said China lodged a "solemn protest" with Germany for allowing a "separatist" like Wong to enter the country to take part in anti-China activities, while expressing "strong dissatisfaction and firm opposition" to Maas' meeting with him.
"We are now standing between the free world and the dictatorship of China. If we are in the new cold war, Hong Kong is the new Berlin," Wong said in a clip from the Bild100-Fest as posted on the website of its organizer, German newspaper Bild.
"We urge the free world to stand together with us in resisting the autocratic Chinese regime. We Hong Kongers are not just fighting this uphill battle for our own, the world and we are all in this together," he said in the clip, which also showed his meeting with Maas.
Wong was just released from Hong Kong police custody Monday before he departed for a tour in Germany to drum up support for Hong Kongers' democracy drive.