HK protest tensions heat up in Australia

China and Hong Kong flags
A Pro-China activist hold ups China and Hong Kong flags while marching on the streets of Sydney on August 17, 2019, as they rally against ongoing protests in Hong Kong. Hundreds of activists bearing Chinese flags and posters rallied on August 17 in Sydney's central business district to denounce pro-democracy protests in the former British colony, while pleading to avoid more violence. - / AFP / Saeed KHAN

SYDNEY -- Hundreds of pro-China demonstrators marched through Sydney Saturday in response to a growing number of rallies in support of the Hong Kong democracy protests as tensions between the two groups increasingly flare in Australia.

They marched through the city chanting “One China”, waving the Chinese flag and holding placards saying “Stop riots end violence in Hong Kong.”

“There has been a lot of violence and violent protests in Hong Kong,” Sydney-based lawyer and rally organizer who asked only to be called Zhao told AFP. “And Hong Kong people have suffered from that and we want to voice our call for peace and order in Hong Kong.”

Police had to escort a lone pro-democracy supporter from the Sydney event after he was set upon by a mob of angry demonstrators.

With the Asian financial hub plunged into crisis by months of pro-democracy protests, several small public rallies of support by Hong Kong students have been held at Australian universities.

These have angered some mainland Chinese students and have led to several heated confrontations and scuffles on campus.

China’s Brisbane consulate praised the “spontaneous patriotism” of pro-Beijing students after a clash at one university.

It immediately drew a sharp rebuke from Canberra, which warned diplomats against undermining fundamental rights or “encouraging disruptive or potentially violent behavior.”

On Friday, the protests moved from the campus to the streets, drawing much larger numbers with hundreds rallying in support of the Hong Kong democracy movement in major cities across Australia.

Police had to break up heated confrontations in Melbourne and Sydney after pro-China activists arrived.

“We understand that there will be different ideas,” pro-Hong Kong democracy rally leader Dennis Chui told AFP, after a small number of Chinese nationalist activists confronted demonstrators Friday.

“(But) freedom and democracy are core values in Australia and we have to respect this,” he added.

Another pro-Hong Kong rally is planned for Sydney Sunday.