The European Union has criticised China for asserting more control over Hong Kong and suggested the move would have an impact on China-EU relations – but the 27-nation bloc ruled out taking any action against its major trading partner.
“We express our grave concern at the steps taken by China,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Friday after chairing a video meeting of the foreign ministers. “Our relations with China are based on mutual respect and trust. I want to underline this – respect and trust – but this decision calls this into question.”
On Thursday, the Chinese parliament rubber-stamped a national security law that will bypass Hong Kong’s internal legislature and punish subversion, secession and “terrorism” in the semi-autonomous territory.
Critics and rights activists fear the law will be used to quash political dissent in the former British colony, whose people had been promised that their rights and freedoms would be respected following its 1997 handover to Beijing.
Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong fear the law could severely restrict political activity and civil society and view it as an assault the regional financial hub’s autonomy.
“This risks to seriously undermine the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and the high degree of autonomy of the Special Administrative Region of Hong Kong,” Borrell told reporters.
When asked if Brussels might threaten sanctions, he said, “I don’t think that sanctions are the way to solve problems in China.”
Borrell said only one of the member states raised the issue of possible sanctions, but he did not name the country.
An EU-China summit is scheduled in Germany in September this year. Borrell said its timetable might change due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The cautious EU statement came after the United States, Britain, Canada and Australia on Thursday issued stern criticism of the Chinese legislation.
The US called on China to back off on the security law, while the UK warned it would extend the visas and possibly provide a path to citizenship for some British passport holders from Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, the US and Britain raised China’s plan to impose new security legislation on Hong Kong at the UN Security Council on Friday.
The 15-member council informally discussed Hong Kong in a closed virtual meeting after China opposed a US call on Wednesday for a formal open council meeting, arguing that it was not an issue of international peace and security.
“The free world must stand with the people of Hong Kong,” US Ambassador Kelly Craft posted on Twitter before the council discussion.
“This legislation risks curtailing the freedoms that China has undertaken to uphold as a matter of international law,” acting British UN Ambassador Jonathan Allen said after the council discussion.
“We are also extremely concerned that … it will exacerbate the existing deep divisions in Hong Kong.”
Diplomats said Russia and China responded during the council discussion by criticizing the US over the killing of an unarmed black man in Minneapolis.
“Why US denies China’s right to restore peace & order in Hong Kong while brutally dispersing crowds at home?” Russia’s Deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy posted on Twitter.
China’s UN Ambassador Zhang Jun said in a statement after the meeting that the US and Britain should “mind their own business”.
“Any attempt to use Hong Kong to interfere in China’s internal matters is doomed to fail.”