CANBERRA, May 23, 2020, SMH. Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom have issued a joint statement criticising the Chinese government’s move to impose restrictive national security laws on Hong Kong in response to long-running pro-democracy protests in the territory, The Sydney Morning Herald reported.
The three Commonwealth countries warned the Chinese Communist Party’s planned laws forbidding treason, secession, sedition, and subversion against the Central People’s Government in Beijing would “clearly undermine” Hong Kong’s autonomy and its citizens’ civil liberties.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang announced the planned “enforcement mechanisms” in a speech to the country’s ceremonial legislature this week, saying China would respect the “one country, two systems” principle that gives Hong Kongers significant control over their own affairs.
But in a statement on Saturday Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Canadian Minister for Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne said they were deeply concerned China had decided to legislate overrule the territory’s legislature.
“Making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf, without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary, would clearly undermine the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy,” the statement read.
They pointed to the legally binding joint declaration signed between China and the United Kingdom when the former colonial power handed over the territory in 1997, which gave Hong Kong a “high degree of autonomy” for 50 years.
“It also provides that rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of the press, of assembly, of association and others, will be ensured by law in Hong Kong, and that the provisions of the two United Nations covenants on human rights … shall remain in force,” the foreign ministers said.
Last year pro-democracy legislators and protesters prevented Hong Kong’s own legislature from passing other national security laws they believed would have impinged on political freedom.
Liberal Senator James Paterson, who has been critical of the Chinese government, said the proposed laws would be the end of “one country, two systems” and were a test of whether the Communist Party’s word “can ever be trusted again”.
The member for Goldstein, Tim Wilson, said Beijing’s move was a “page from the highly centralised authoritarian playbook” but that the group of Commonwealth countries had shown courage by speaking out.
“Now we need other freedom-loving countries to do the same,” Mr Wilson said.
Dave Sharma, the Sydney Liberal MP, said the timing of China’s move suggested it was using the coronavirus as an opportunity to act while the rest of the world was distracted.
On her return from the Communist Party’s National People’s Congress in Beijing, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the Chinese proposal would improve business confidence in the city and would not damage the interests of foreign investors, China’s state news agency Xinhua reported.
The step would improve safety and protect interests of local Hong Kong residents and foreign investors, Lam said in a press briefing.
The Trade Minister has told Australian businesses to weigh the risk of relying too heavily on China, as Beijing threatens barley and beef exports, widely seen as retaliation for Canberra demanding an inquiry into the origins for COVID-19.
US President Donald Trump warned Washington would react “very strongly” if Beijing went ahead with the security law. It could see mainland intelligence agencies set up bases in Hong Kong.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said it would be the “death knell” for Hong Kong’s autonomy and that the US stood with its people.
“The United States strongly urges Beijing to reconsider its disastrous proposal, abide by its international obligations, and respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties, which are key to preserving its special status under US law,” he said.