International calls rise against China’s clampdown in Hong Kong

Riot police officers carry a banner warning protesters to disperse during a rally against the implementation of a new national security law in Causeway Bay, Hong Kong, China, 24 May 2020. [EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE]

An international coalition of 208 parliamentarians and policymakers has come out in support of the pro-democracy front in Hong Kong, as activists hit back at Beijing’s most recent bid to stifle freedoms in the region.

A grouping of high-level politicians from more than 23 countries signed a joint letter over the weekend, expressing “grave concerns about the unilateral introduction of national security legislation by Beijing in Hong Kong.”

This comes after the European Commission’s Foreign Affairs Chief, Josep Borrell, released a statement on Friday evening (22 May), saying that the EU will monitor developments in the region closely.

The EU “attaches great importance to the preservation of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, in line with the Basic Law and with international commitments,” Borrell said in the statement.

Protests meanwhile hit the city over the weekend, with police firing tear gas and using water cannons against demonstrators who had come out in a show of solidarity against Beijing’s recent plans for Hong Kong.

China is due to pass a law in the coming days that will see “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” banned in the territory, which some fear may further erode the rights to protest and freedom of assembly currently permitted in Hong Kong, afforded by the 1985 Sino–British Joint Declaration.

By international law, Hong Kong is considered a semi-autonomous region of the Chinese state since being returned to the country after 156 years of British rule, under the principle of “one country, two systems,” meaning that Hong Kong enjoys certain civil liberties not afforded to Chinese counterparts.

A draft decision on Beijing’s national security legislation in Hong Kong, which is expected to be voted on at the close of the annual session of China’s National People’s Congress (NPC) on May 28, states that: “When needed, relevant national security organs of the Central People’s Government will set up agencies in Hong Kong to fulfil relevant duties to safeguard national security in accordance with the law.”

Following the NPC vote, China’s top legislature will rubber stamp the plans with a view to enacting the new measures before the end of June.

European voices

This weekend’s letter, led by former Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten, and the former UK Foreign Secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, notes that such a move would be a “flagrant breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration” and shouldn’t be tolerated.

The letter features a range of European signatories, including a cross-section of national MPs, as well as European Parliamentarians including Renew’s Guy Verhofstadt, EPP’s Andrius Kibilius MEP, and Chair of the Parliament’s China delegation, the Green’s Reinhard Buetikofer.

EURACTIV recently heard from Buetikofer, with regards to his position on China’s latest move in Hong Kong.

“The imposition of a so-called national security law by the Beijing leadership effectively ends the high level of autonomy which Hong Kong has enjoyed in the past,” he told EURACTIV in emailed comments.

“For Hong Kong, this is a tragedy. For the rest of the world, this clearly signals: in its big power arrogance, the Xi Jinping leadership will honour only such international obligations that it considers favourable for their own goals.”

Merkel: Save us

Elsewhere, pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong have called upon heads of European states to do more in the region. In a recent interview with Business Insider, activist Glacier Kwong said that she hopes “Angela Merkel doesn’t sacrifice Germany’s fundamental values to support the economy and appease China,” adding that “being dependent on China will sooner or later do Germany serious harm.”

The EU-China summit, due to take place at the end of March in Beijing, was postponed earlier this year due to the global coronavirus outbreak. The meeting would have been the first coming together of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang with the new presidents of the European Commission and the European Council, Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel, since they took up their new posts.

A second EU-China summit is still slated to take place in Leipzig in September, under the Presidency of the German Council, with China’s President Xi Jinping meeting all 27 EU leaders.

(Edited by Frédéric Simon)

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