China’s plan to impose a new security law on Hong Kong puts it in direct violation of its international commitments, the United States and its allies – the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia – have said.
“China’s decision to impose the new national security law on Hong Kong lies in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration,” a joint statement released by the four countries said on Thursday.
The proposed Chinese law would undermine the “one country, two systems” framework, the four allies said in the statement, referring to the arrangement under which Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997.
“Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom,” the US and allies said, adding their “deep concern regarding Beijing’s decision to impose a national security law in Hong Kong”.
Police stand guard on a road to deter pro-democracy protesters from blocking roads in the Mong Kok district of Hong Kong on Wednesday [Isaac Lawrence/AFP]
The condemnation was issued after China’s parliament earlier on Thursday rubber-stamped a law initially proposed by the National People’s Congress (NPC) after huge pro-democracy protests rocked the financial hub for nearly 11 months.
The vote was 2,878-1 with six abstentions, in line with the high-profile but largely ceremonial body’s custom of near-unanimous support for all legal changes decided by the ruling Communist Party.
The law will alter Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, or Basic Law, to require the territory to enforce measures to be decided by the NPC’s standing committee, a small body controlled by the governing party that handles most legislative work.
China says the legislation will aim to tackle secession, subversion, “terrorism” and foreign interference in the city but the plan, unveiled in Beijing last week, triggered the first big protests in Hong Kong for months.
The US and allies said they were “extremely concerned that this action will exacerbate the existing deep divisions in Hong Kong society”.
“The law does nothing to build mutual understanding and foster reconciliation within Hong Kong,” they said.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the US Congress on Wednesday that the White House no longer regards Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China, further deteriorating relations between the two nations.
Pompeo’s notice to the US Congress added Hong Kong to the Trump administration’s increasing conflicts with China over trade, technology, religious freedom, Chinese handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the status of Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its territory.
More than 1,300 US companies have offices in Hong Kong, providing about 100,000 jobs.
“Several countries have expressed deep concern over this law, but the United States has been the loudest and strongest in its rebuke,” Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu reported from Beijing.
Yu said the US-China relationship has hit an all-time low, one of the “lowest points it has been in decades”.
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also defended the autonomy of Hong Kong, asserting that “freedom of expression and assembly and also democratic debate in Hong Kong must continue to be respected in the future”.
China, meanwhile, said it would take necessary countermeasures to any foreign interference into what it insists are its internal affairs.
Premier Li Keqiang, in a news conference on Thursday, called for mutual respect and Sino-US cooperation to promote “extensive common interests” in resolving global problems and promoting trade, science and other fields.
“Both countries stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation,” Li said.