China’s foreign ministry on Friday urged a group of American congressmen to “stop meddling ” in the country’s internal affairs and do something more beneficial to Sino-US ties, after they nominated Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung and two allies for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In a strongly worded statement, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated its position that 2014’s pro-democracy Occupy protests – led in part by the Nobel nominees Wong, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang – were illegal.
That came as pro-Beijing legislators in the city dismissed the nomination, which they said could do more harm than good to the trio’s quest for democracy.
The ministry’s statement read: “Hong Kong’s affairs are China’s domestic affairs, and China firmly objects to anyone intervening through any means.
“We would urge the relevant congressmen to stop meddling with Hong Kong’s affairs and China’s domestic affairs. They should do more things that are conducive to the development of China-US ties, and not the opposite.”
A group of 12 US congressmen known for their criticism of China put forward Wong, Law and Chow, as well as the entire campaign popularly known as the “umbrella movement”, to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo. It is the first time there has been a nominee from Hong Kong.
During the Occupy sit-ins major roads in Hong Kong were blocked by tens of thousands of protesters voicing opposition to Beijing’s restrictive framework for how Hongkongers would elect the city’s leader.
The ministry’s statement went on: “The so-called Occupy Central that took place in Hong Kong was completely illegal. The city’s government handled it according to the law, and under the central government’s firm support to safeguard the city’s rule of law and social order.
“The likes of Wong Chi-fung, as main participants of the illegal ‘Occupy Central’, were punished according to the law.”
Wong, Law and Chow were jailed for their roles in unrest in the run-up to the sit-ins, and are out on bail pending appeal. Wong has also been given a jail sentence for a separate incident towards the end of the occupations, which he has also appealed.
On Friday the trio said in a statement: “If there is any honour at all, it should belong to participants of the democratic movement which lasted for more than a century in China and Hong Kong.
“We are honoured to have taken part in … the umbrella movement. Its spirit will continue to guide us and future generations,” they said.
The foreign ministry spoke on the nomination hours after Hong Kong’s pro-establishment camp warned that the move would do more harm than good.
Legislator Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the city’s largest pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said it was “incomprehensible” for the trio to be nominated.
In a reference to the 2014 protests, Lee said: “Occupy Central was not peaceful … It did not help Hong Kong to achieve any progress in democracy.”
Lee said the protests had made Beijing “more worried” about Hong Kong’s political situation, and “the space enjoyed by the city under ‘one country, two systems’ could also have been diminished because of it.”
One country, two systems is the governing formula under which Beijing has ruled Hong Kong since 1997. It guarantees the city certain freedoms that mainland cities do not enjoy.
Pro-establishment lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, from the Business and Professionals Alliance, said it was inappropriate for the US congressmen to nominate the trio.
Watch: what does ‘one country, two systems’ mean?
“The nomination could create more obstacles in Hong Kong’s progress towards democracy, because it could reinforce Beijing’s perception that foreign forces were involved in the Occupy movement,” she said.
Lau Siu-kai, a Hong Kong adviser to Beijing, said the central government could even see the nomination as a “provocative act and intervention in Hong Kong affairs” by the United States.
“It will not help Hong Kong or the democratic movement advocated by those nominated because Beijing will not be pressured by such a move,” Lau said.
But Civic Party legislator Dennis Kwok said the nomination was “not a challenge to any nation or regime”.
“There’s no need to be too sensitive … The nominating requirements are very loose; you can nominate people as long as you are a congressman or professor, and whether someone can win the prize will be decided by the Nobel Committee,” he said.
Law said he was not worried that being nominated could mean he and his allies facing more suppression from Beijing.
“The most important thing is not our nomination. It is that Hong Kong’s democratic movement is recognised as having a certain role in the world, and that recognition … will remind people about the movement,” he said.
Law hoped that as long as people remembered the protests, “they would continue with the spirit of the movement and support Hong Kong’s democratic cause”.