Tokyo is concerned about China’s actions in Hong Kong, which was promised in 1997 a “one country, two systems” based on liberal values, Japanese Ambassador to the EU Kazuo Kodama told EURACTIV.com in a telephone interview.
“There was an important deal reached between the UK and China […] China committed that ‘one country, two systems’ would prevail in the Hong Kong region. When I was there, we understood that Hong Kong’s way of life would be maintained, liberalism and independence of judiciary would be maintained as well as freedom of speech and press as these values are protected in the US, Europe and Japan,” he said.
“Based on this, from what’s being discussed at the People’s Congress in Beijing, we are seriously concerned about China’s actions in Hong Kong,” he added.
When the region was handed over from the UK to China in 1997, the ‘one country, two systems’ constitutional principle was agreed, which would grant Hong Kong certain freedoms, and judicial and legislative autonomy for 50 years.
However, China passed on Tuesday (30 June) in absolute secrecy a controversial national security law for Hong Kong, which has raised eyebrows in the West.
According to AFP, it’s a “historic move” that critics and many western governments fear will smother the financial hub’s freedoms and hollow out its autonomy. On the mainland, national security laws are routinely used to jail critics, especially for the vague offence of “subversion”.
The US, UK, the EU and the UN have all voiced their concern about the Chinese law, which according to them, aims to suppress critics of Beijing.
“It marks the end of Hong Kong that the world knew before. With sweeping powers and ill-defined law, the city will turn into a #secretpolicestate,” prominent democracy campaigner Joshua Wong tweeted.
Referring to the ongoing US-China battle over future global governance, the Japanese diplomat said Beijing’s political system seems to be willing this “game”.
Kodama reiterated that Japan, the EU and the US have decided to pursue liberal democratic values.
“We have been conducting democracy, general elections and we have attached such importance to the concept of individual rights”.
Meanwhile, a new poll conducted by the German Marshall Fund, together with Institut Montaigne and the Bertelsmann Foundation, published today (30 June) found that China’s influence in Europe and the US has grown in the wake of the pandemic.
According to the survey, after the COVID-19 crisis the percentage of Americans, Germans and French viewing China as the most influential country has doubled (to 14% in the U.S., 20% in Germany, and 28% in France).
The citizens of these countries do not see China’s rising influence in a positive light while Germans and French would prefer their government to take a harder stance against Beijing.
Pressure on China over trade
Kodama added that China has been successful for more than two decades in producing remarkable and sustained growth which has made Chinese people more affluent.
However, he warned that China needs a free, transparent and fairer trade system.
“Between China and the rest of the free world one of the serious challenges is that there is no real reciprocity accorded to non-Chinese companies to conduct business and investments in China […[ while Chinese companies enjoy more freedom in Europe and Japan,” he said.
He also praised the EU for been very consistent in reminding the Chinese side about reciprocal treatment in trade and investment.
“It’s important for the EU and Japan to close ranks on these issues and hopefully invite the US on board and then engage China to convince them,” he said.
[Edited by Benjamin Fox]