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China blasts critics of new Hong Kong security law

By AFP

March 20, 2024 12:27 PM


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China lashed out against critics of Hong Kong's new national security law on Wednesday, accusing the British government of having the "mindset of a coloniser" and condemning the EU's "hypocritical" position.

Hong Kong, a former colony of Britain before the 1997 handover back to China, on Tuesday passed a security law commonly referred to as Article 23 to punish five crimes after a fast-tracked legislative process.

British foreign minister David Cameron said it was a "rushed" process for a law that would "further damage the rights and freedoms enjoyed in the city".

In response, China's de facto foreign ministry in Hong Kong blasted Britain as being "hypocritical and exercising double standards" in an apparent reference to London's own national security laws.

"The United Kingdom has been making inflammatory and irresponsible comments on Hong Kong's situation... it's all due to the deep-rooted mindset as a coloniser and preacher," the foreign affairs commissioner said in a statement Wednesday.

"We urge the UK to set its position right, face the reality, and give up on the fantasy of continuing its colonial influence in Hong Kong."

Responding to the EU's criticism, the commissioner's office expressed "strong disaffection and opposition" to its comments.

"We urge the EU to envisage the strong appeal for the legislation in Hong Kong, and abandon its hypocritical double standards and prejudice," the statement said.

As part of Britain's handover agreement to China, Hong Kong was guaranteed certain freedoms, including judicial and legislative autonomy, for 50 years in a deal known as "one country, two systems".

The accord cemented the city's status as a world-class business hub, bolstered by a reliable judiciary and political freedoms distinct from the mainland.

But 2019's massive and at times violent democracy protests -- which saw hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers take to the streets to call for more autonomy from Beijing's rule -- drew a swift response from authorities.

Beijing imposed a national security law on Hong Kong in 2020 focused on punishing four crimes -- secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Since its enactment, nearly 300 people have been arrested under the law, while dozens of politicians, activists and other public figures have been jailed or forced into exile, and civil society has largely been silenced.

- 'Grave concern' -

The newly passed law, which punishes treason, insurrection, theft of state secrets and espionage, sabotage, and external interference, will work in tandem to plug up "gaps" left by Beijing's legislation, Hong Kong's leader John Lee has said.

The government has argued its creation was a "constitutional responsibility" as outlined under Article 23 of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, which has governed the city since the handover.

But Cameron said the fast-tracked legislation undermined the Sino-British Joint Declaration, an internationally binding agreement signed in 1984 in which China agreed to run Hong Kong under the "one country, two systems" principle.

"I urge the Hong Kong authorities to... uphold its high degree of autonomy and the rule of law and act in accordance with its international commitments and legal obligations," he said.

His statement also drew a rebuke from the Chinese embassy in Britain, which called it "a serious distortion of the facts".

The embassy said the law, which imposes life imprisonment for crimes related to treason and insurrection, "fully safeguards the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents".

"We urge the UK to cease its baseless accusations... refrain from interfering in China's internal affairs under any pretext," it said.

The United States, United Nations, European Union and Japan have also publicly criticised the law.

State Department spokesman Vedant Patel said Tuesday that the United States was "alarmed by the sweeping and what we interpret as vaguely defined provisions" in the law.

UN rights chief Volker Turk called the law and its "rushed" adoption "a regressive step for the protection of human rights".

The EU criticised not only the expected impact of the law on the city's freedoms overall, but specifically said it had the "potential to significantly affect the work of the European Union's office", European consulates and EU citizens in Hong Kong.

"This also raises questions about Hong Kong's long-term attractiveness as an international business hub," the EU said in a statement Tuesday.

Japan on Wednesday added to the chorus, saying it attached "great importance to upholding a free and open system and ensuring the democratic and stable development of Hong Kong.

Japan "reiterates its grave concern about the passage of (Hong Kong's national security law), which will further undermine the confidence in the "One Country, Two Systems" framework," it said.

Australia hosts China FM

China and Australia claimed to have stabilised long-strained relations after talks in Canberra on Wednesday, despite tensions over a high-profile prisoner, trade and China's crackdowns in Hong Kong and elsewhere remaining evident.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Australia for the first time since 2017, marking a diplomatic thaw between two trading partners who have sparred over everything from the origins of Covid-19 to military deployments.

Wang said recent efforts to mend relations had "broken the ice", and that "mutual trust" and "good momentum" were slowly building in the relationship.

"The most crucial thing is to persist in seeking common ground while reserving differences," he said.

China and Australia have been working to patch up ties after years of bickering and tit-for-tat trade reprisals.

Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said it was crucial to recognise "how much progress we have made in a short period of time".

Despite praising the renewed "stability" between Beijing and Canberra, Wong also hinted at several ongoing points of friction.

"We discussed the sentencing of Dr Yang Hengjun. I told the foreign minister Australians were shocked at the sentence imposed," she said.

Jailed Chinese-Australian writer Yang Hengjun -- also known as Yang Jun -- was in February handed a suspended death sentence after a Beijing court found him guilty of espionage.

He vehemently denies the charges.

"I raised Australia's concerns about human rights, including in Xinjiang, Tibet and Hong Kong," Wong added.

Hong Kong on Tuesday passed a new national security law, introducing harsh penalties for crimes related to treason and insurrection.

The United States, European Union, United Kingdom and United Nations have issued strong statements criticising the Hong Kong authorities over the law, saying they were concerned about its impact on rights and freedoms in the city.

Protesters gathered on the lawns of Australia's parliament as the foreign ministers met inside, drawing attention to a litany of alleged human rights abuses within China.

Demonstrators waved Tibetan and Xinjiang flags and brandished placards declaring "human rights not for sale" and "release Yang Hengjun".

- Trade restrictions -

Australia's relationship with China began unravelling in 2018, when it excluded telecommunications giant Huawei from its 5G network on security grounds.

Then in 2020, Australia called for an international investigation into the origins of Covid-19 -- an action China saw as politically motivated.

In response, Beijing slapped trade restrictions on a slew of Australian exports, including barley, beef and wine, while halting its coal imports.

Most of those barriers have been gradually wound back as relations have been repaired, although restrictions remain on Australian wine exports.

Wang said a final decision on wine tariffs would be made at the end of the month, signalling restrictions could soon be lifted.

Before the trade restrictions were imposed, China was the largest destination for Australian bottled wine - accounting for 33 percent of export revenue in 2020, according to Australian government data.

Wong said the talks had also focused on nickel markets.

The global nickel market has been upended by a surge in exports from Indonesia -- enabled by massive Chinese investments and a revolution in refining techniques.

Prices have fallen about 40 percent in the past year alone, prompting many once-dominant Australian firms to rethink projects or write down the value of their assets.


AFP


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