October 11, 2019 / 6:34 AM / 12 days ago

China denounces Thai politicians for show of support to Hong Kong activists

BANGKOK (Reuters) - The Chinese embassy in Bangkok has condemned Thai politicians for showing support for Hong Kong activists involved in anti-government protests, saying it could harm the relationship between the two countries.

FILE PHOTO: Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit, leader of the Future Forward Party, speaks during a news conference at the parliament in Bangkok, Thailand June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

The criticism was echoed by Thailand’s army chief, who on Friday spoke of “hidden agendas” in meetings between opposition activists.

The embassy criticism, in a statement on its official Facebook page late on Thursday, came days after Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong posted a picture on social media with prominent Thai opposition politician Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit.

“Some Thai politicians have contacted the group that wants to separate Hong Kong from China, showing gestures of support,” the embassy said in a Thai-language statement without naming any individuals.

“This is wrong and irresponsible. China hopes that relevant people will understand the truth about problems in Hong Kong, act carefully and do useful things for the friendship between China and Thailand.”

Hong Kong has seen months of protests led by young activists against the city’s Beijing-backed government amid fears Beijing is gradually eroding freedoms promised when the city returned to China from British rule in 1997.

China denies that and has accused Western countries of stoking anti-China sentiment in Hong Kong.

Wong and Thanathorn met on Oct. 5 at the Open Future Festival in Hong Kong, attending as speakers at the annual event.

“Under the hard-line authoritarian suppression, we stand in solidarity,” Wong wrote in a tweet that showed a picture of him standing next to the Thai politician.

PICTURE CLUE

Thanathorn said he was not involved with the Hong Kong protests. He also said he respected Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, and supported freedom of expression.

“I have always supported people’s rights to peaceful self-expression. I wish to see the situation in Hong Kong resolve,” Thanathorn said in a Facebook post.

Thai army chief General Apirat Kongsompong indirectly criticized Thanathorn’s meeting with Wong on Friday during a press briefing in which he accused opposition politicians of inappropriate behavior.

“Wong came to Thailand countless of times. To meet whom? The meetings had hidden agendas. Were they conspiring, cooking up something together?” Apirat asked.

“And with the incidents in Hong Kong, someone went, to give moral support, to give encouragement,” Apirat added, showing the picture of Thanathorn and Wong that was posted on social media, though Thanathorn was blacked out in the image.

FILE PHOTO: Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong poses during an interview at the Reuters New York office in New York City, U.S., September 14, 2019. REUTERS/JEENAH MOON/File Photo

Thailand was run by a military junta for five years after then-army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha overthrew an elected government.

Elections in July were won by Prayuth’s pro-army party in a vote that opposition parties said was organized to ensure military control of politics.

The Thai Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the Chinese embassy’s statement but referred to a statement in September stating that Thailand regarded the situation in Hong Kong as China’s internal affairs.

Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by David Goodman, Robert Birsel

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