May 29, 2020 / 11:27 AM / 2 months ago

Hong Kong media tycoon vows to stay and 'fight' China, backs U.S. pressure

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Embattled Hong Kong publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai - one of the financial hub’s most prominent democracy activists - said on Friday he would fight till the last against Beijing’s imposition of national security laws and keep publishing.

Media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, founder of Apple Daily speaks during an interview to response national security legislation in Hong Kong, China May 29, 2020. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

“What I have, this place gave me, I will fight on till the last day. It will be (an) honour if I ... sacrifice,” Lai told Reuters in his office, choking up at times.

The pugnacious Lai, a thorn in the side of China, has been identified by observers as one of the main potential targets of the new laws that will outlaw subversion, secession, terrorism and foreign interference.

While details of the law haven’t yet been finalised by Beijing, some critics say new sedition regulations could make it easier to muzzle media outlets like Lai’s.

Lai’s remarks came before U.S. President Donald Trump was due to announce fresh action against China.

“Definitely outside support, the so-called foreign influence is our only salvation … I think if the Americans support us very strongly the other countries will follow through. America has to take the lead,” said Lai, tanned and sporting a crew-cut, track-suit bottoms and sneakers.

Next Digital publishes Apple Daily, a popular tabloid, known for its feisty and critical coverage of China and Hong Kong, that has been hit by dwindling advertising revenues as well as frequent attacks by pro-Beijing voices in the city.

Next Media is considered one of the key remaining bastions of media freedom in Hong Kong.

The U.S. State Department said the national security regime means Hong Kong is no longer autonomous from China, but Trump has yet to specify what action, such as sanctions, he will take.

Chinese officials say the new laws are vital to secure the city after protracted anti-government protests, but critics warn they will erode the autonomy and freedoms promised to Hong Kongers when Britain handed the former colony back to China in 1997.

Lai has been arrested twice this year on illegal assembly charges, along with other leading activists, relating to protests last year.

Lai said he expected Trump would scale up the pressure on China, possibly initially through asset seizures and other specific sanctions, in part to portray his rival Joe Biden as weak ahead of November’s presidential election.

“The whole thing is not about Hong Kong, the whole thing is about China. You have to make them (Beijing) personally responsible so they feel the pain,” he said.

Reporting by Greg Torode and James Pomfret; Editing by Hugh Lawson

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