Six hundred thousand Hong Kongers defied warnings to vote in an unofficial primary election for pro-democracy parties on Sunday. Now China is warning that all of them may have violated the new national security law.

Votes were taken at 250 polling stations to chose the best candidates to challenge pro-China parties in the city's Legislative Council election, which is due to start on September 6.

Activists see gaining a majority in the legislature as the best way to combat growing Chinese interference after Beijing imposed a new law on Hong Kong on June 30 which gives them sweeping powers to identify and crack down on protest and dissent at will.

But the Chinese government's liaison office in Hong Kong said in a statement on Monday that the vote was "nakedly illegal behavior."

Carrie Lam, the pro-Beijing chief executive of Hong Kong, also told a Monday press conference that the primaries "may fall into the category of subverting the state power which is now one of the four types of offences under the new national security law."

TOPSHOT - (L-R) Pro-democracy activists Gwyneth Ho, Leung Hoi-ching, Tiffany Yuen and Joshua Wong campaign during primary elections in Hong Kong on July 12, 2020. - Pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong held primary polls on July 11 and 12 to choose candidates for upcoming legislative elections despite warnings from government officials that it may be in breach of a new security law imposed by China. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP) (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)TOPSHOT - (L-R) Pro-democracy activists Gwyneth Ho, Leung Hoi-ching, Tiffany Yuen and Joshua Wong campaign during primary elections in Hong Kong on July 12, 2020. - Pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong held primary polls on July 11 and 12 to choose candidates for upcoming legislative elections despite warnings from government officials that it may be in breach of a new security law imposed by China. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP) (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)TOPSHOT - (L-R) Pro-democracy activists Gwyneth Ho, Leung Hoi-ching, Tiffany Yuen and Joshua Wong campaign during primary elections in Hong Kong on July 12, 2020. - Pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong held primary polls on July 11 and 12 to choose candidates for upcoming legislative elections despite warnings from government officials that it may be in breach of a new security law imposed by China. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP) (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)
TOPSHOT - (L-R) Pro-democracy activists Gwyneth Ho, Leung Hoi-ching, Tiffany Yuen and Joshua Wong campaign during primary elections in Hong Kong on July 12, 2020. - Pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong held primary polls on July 11 and 12 to choose candidates for upcoming legislative elections despite warnings from government officials that it may be in breach of a new security law imposed by China. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP) (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)TOPSHOT - (L-R) Pro-democracy activists Gwyneth Ho, Leung Hoi-ching, Tiffany Yuen and Joshua Wong campaign during primary elections in Hong Kong on July 12, 2020. - Pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong held primary polls on July 11 and 12 to choose candidates for upcoming legislative elections despite warnings from government officials that it may be in breach of a new security law imposed by China. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP) (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)TOPSHOT - (L-R) Pro-democracy activists Gwyneth Ho, Leung Hoi-ching, Tiffany Yuen and Joshua Wong campaign during primary elections in Hong Kong on July 12, 2020. - Pro-democracy parties in Hong Kong held primary polls on July 11 and 12 to choose candidates for upcoming legislative elections despite warnings from government officials that it may be in breach of a new security law imposed by China. (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP) (Photo by ISAAC LAWRENCE/AFP via Getty Images)
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The statement from the liaison office also accused Benny Tai Yiu-ting, a legal expert who organized the primaries, of working with foreign governments to undermine China's efforts to control Hong Kong.

"The goal of the Benny Tai gang and the opposition is to seize the power of governance in Hong Kong and deliberately stage the Hong Kong version of the 'color revolution,'" the statement said.

"He was so openly manipulating the election. Whose instructions did he receive? Who gave him such confidence?"

Chief Executive Lam also said that if the intention of the primary was to help democratic parties gain a 35-seat majority in the 70-seat legislature then that "may fall into the category of subverting the state power."

The national security law has made it immensely difficult to oppose China's growing influence on Hong Kong.

The law is vague, with a maximum punishment of life in jail for those prosecuted. As a result, several high-profile Hong Kong activists fled the city, some of whom are now working on a parliament in exile .

Organizers of the primaries said they initially expected 170,000 people to turn out. But after the number hit 600,000, Sunny Cheung, a candidate in the primary, told Reuters it will "send a very strong signal to the international community, that we Hong Kongers never give up."

The national security law passed despite weeks of protest in the city and objections from countries like the US, UK, and Australia.

In the aftermath Britain, which ruled over Hong Kong for around 150 years until 1997, offered 3 million Hong Kongers and their families a path to citizenship.

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