United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo offered unsparing criticism of the Chinese Communist Party while visiting London on Tuesday, describing the leadership’s behaviour regarding the coronavirus pandemic as unforgivable and slamming “the crushing of freedoms” in Hong Kong.
Pompeo said he held “candid” discussions with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab amid growing tensions between the West and China. In a sweeping broadside, he challenged every nation which “understands freedom and democracy and values that” to understand the threat being posed by China’s dominant party.
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“We hope we can build out a coalition that understands this,” he said.
The session came just hours after Britain suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and blocked arms sales to the former British territory – angering Beijing – after China imposed a tough new national security law.
Britain followed the US, Australia and Canada in suspending extradition agreements with Hong Kong, which became a special administrative region of China after the UK returned control of the territory to Beijing in 1997.
China’s ambassador to Britain, Liu Xiaoming, warned on Twitter that the UK should “bear the consequences of damaging bilateral relations”. He described the new measure as gross interference on the part of the UK in Chinese internal affairs.
Pompeo described his talks in London as being “constructive″ and ranging “from 5G telecommunication to our negotiations for a US-UK free trade agreement”.
Pompeo also met with senior members of Johnson’s Conservative Party, who blocked plans to give Chinese telecommunications company Huawei a role in the UK’s new high-speed mobile phone network.
The US has lobbied its allies to shun Huawei because it says the Chinese government could use the company’s technology to spy on Western nations. Huawei denies the allegations and argues that US protectionism is behind the move.
Events in Hong Kong are particularly sensitive for Britain because China agreed to a “one country, two systems″ policy intended to protect the economic and social traditions of the territory for 50 years after the handover.
Britain and its allies believe the security law imposed by Beijing threatens that agreement because it restricts free speech and erodes the judicial independence of Hong Kong. The law makes crimes such as promoting secession punishable by a maximum sentence of life in prison. It also allows some cases to be tried on the Chinese mainland – which means people extradited to Hong Kong could end up being tried in mainland courts.
The UK has already accused the Beijing government of violating the Sino-British Joint Declaration under which Hong Kong was returned to China, and announced it would open a special route to citizenship for up to three million eligible residents of the territory.