China has defended the removal of four pro-democracy legislators in Hong Kong despite 15 others quitting in protest, with Beijing calling the resignations a “blatant challenge” to its authority over the city.
“No country would turn a blind eye to acts of betrayal of the country by public officials,” Wang Wenbin, foreign ministry spokesperson, said at a regular news briefing in Beijing on Thursday.
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The remarks came after Hong Kong pro-democracy legislators handed in their resignation letters on Thursday afternoon, carrying out a pledge to step down after Beijing kicked out four of their colleagues this week.
Earlier on Thursday, the 15 opposition politicians stayed out of the council’s morning meeting, leaving a swath of seats empty.
“It once again showed their stubborn confrontation against the central government and a blatant challenge to the power of the central government. We severely condemn this,” a statement by Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said.
“We have to tell these opposition lawmakers, that if they want to use this to advocate a radical fight, and beg for foreign forces to interfere, and once again drag Hong Kong into chaos, that’s a wrong calculation.”
The city’s Legislative Council is now left with 43 legislators, 41 of whom are considered pro-establishment.
Elections for the Legislative Council were scheduled for September 6 this year, but the government postponed them for a year, citing the coronavirus pandemic.
Hong Kong’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement and avenues of dissent have been under sustained attack since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law this year.
“Hong Kongers – prepare for a long, long time where there is only one voice in society,” pro-democracy legislator Lam Cheuk-ting told reporters outside the council building.
“If you are a dissident, get ready for even more pressure.”
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, a Beijing appointee, on Wednesday was granted the power to remove any legislator she deems insufficiently patriotic, without recourse to the city’s courts.
She immediately made use of those powers, kicking out four politicians she said were a threat to national security, and sparking criticism both at home and abroad.
The United States has threatened further sanctions on government figures in Hong Kong, while Britain has accused China of breaking the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
“Beijing’s imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong constitutes a clear breach of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said.
“China has once again broken its promises and undermined Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”
Hong Kong’s autonomy was guaranteed under the “one country, two systems” agreement enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Britain now considers that China has broken the Joint Declaration three times: the other times were in 2016 and earlier in 2020 when Beijing introduced the Hong Kong National Security Legislation.
“The UK will stand up for the people of Hong Kong, and call out violations of their rights and freedoms,” Raab said. “With our international partners, we will hold China to the obligations it freely assumed under international law.”