Australia, the UK, Canada and US have issued a joint statement taking aim at China’s decision to introduce a new security law in Hong Kong, saying the move will destroy trust between governments in the age of coronavirus.
Foreign Minster Marise Payne issued the statement along with her UK counterpart Dominic Raab, Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo after China pushed ahead with plans to introduce a new law it says will crack down on terrorists in Hong Kong after months of pro-democracy protests last year.
However Western nations have signalled their “deep concern” over the imposition and say “Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom.”
“The international community has a significant and longstanding stake in Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability. Direct imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the Beijing authorities, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions as provided for under Article 23 of the Basic Law, would curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties, and in doing so, dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous.”
The statement says China’s new law is in “direct conflict” with its international obligations and undermines the “One Country, Two Systems framework” Hong Kong operates under.
“It also raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, and undermines existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people.”
In addition to exacerbating “deep divisions” in Hong Kong, the leaders said it would ruin the fragile sense of global co-operation needed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The world’s focus on a global pandemic requires enhanced trust in governments and international co-operation,” the statement said.
“Beijing’s unprecedented move risks having the opposite effect. As Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity are jeopardised by the new imposition, we call on the Government of China to work with the Hong Kong SAR Government and the people of Hong Kong to find a mutually acceptable accommodation that will honour China’s international obligations under the UN-filed Sino-British Joint Declaration.”
The statement comes after China officially ratified a controversial plan to write a new security law that would give Beijing greater control over the semi-autonomous Hong Kong following months of protests that rocked the city last year.
No timetable for the law changes has been announced, however it is expected to strengthen Beijing’s ability to crack down on secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference in Hong Kong’s affairs.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam, who has come under fire for handling the protests last year said the decision was welcomed and it would “sanction an extremely small minority of criminals who threaten national security” and “not affect the legitimate rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents.”
But pro-Democracy politicians in the country fear it could be the end of the city’s independence from its Communist neighbour.
“From now on, Hong Kong is nothing but just another mainland Chinese city,” pro- democracy politician Claudia Mo said.
Rising tensions between China and Western leaders come against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan before spreading around the world.
China has defended its transparency in sharing information and dealing with the virus, however Australia has led calls for an independent inquiry which China eventually backed at the World Health Assembly.
Despite public assurances, Chinese state media has ramped up attacks on Western countries, making fun of Australia in a cartoon this week and warning the US it will “no longer be intimidated”.
The Communist state has also slapped barley tariffs on Australia and banned some meat exports in the wake of the inquiry push.