China’s plan to impose a new security law on Hong Kong puts it in direct violation of its international commitments, the United States and its allies – the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia – have said.
“China’s decision to impose the new national security law on Hong Kong lies in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration,” a joint statement released by the four countries said on Thursday.
The proposed Chinese law would undermine the “one country, two systems” framework, the four allies said in the statement, referring to the arrangement under which Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997.
“Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom,” the US and allies said, adding their “deep concern regarding Beijing’s decision to impose a national security law in Hong Kong”.
China’s parliament on Thursday rubber-stamped legislation after months of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong that were started by plans for an extradition bill that would have allowed suspects to be sent to the mainland for trial.
The vote in Beijing was 2,878-1 with six abstentions, in line with the high-profile but largely ceremonial body’s custom of near-unanimous support for all legal changes decided by the ruling Communist Party.
The law will be added to Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, or Basic Law, to require the territory to enforce measures to be decided by the NPC’s standing committee, a small body controlled by the governing party that handles most legislative work.
China says the legislation will aim to tackle secession, subversion, “terrorism” and foreign interference in the city but the plan, unveiled in Beijing last week, triggered the biggest protests in Hong Kong for months.
The US and allies are “extremely concerned that this action will exacerbate the existing deep divisions in Hong Kong society,” the statement said.
“The law does nothing to build mutual understanding and foster reconciliation within Hong Kong,” it added.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the US Congress on Wednesday that the White House no longer regarded Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China, further deteriorating relations between the two nations.
Pompeo’s notice to congress added Hong Kong to the Trump administration’s increasing conflicts with China over trade, technology, religious freedom, Chinese handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the status of Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its own.
More than 1,300 US companies have offices in Hong Kong, providing about 100,000 jobs.
“Several countries have expressed deep concern over this law, but the United States has been the loudest and strongest in its rebuke,” Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu reported from Beijing.
Yu said the US-China relationship has hit an all-time low, one of the “lowest points it has been in decades”.
US President Donald Trump has indicated that the administration will announce its response to China’s legislation by the end of the week.
Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the US House of Representatives, called for the administration to work with Congress on an “appropriate response” that considers all tools available from economic penalties to visa limitations.
If America does not speak out for human rights in China because of commercial interests, we lose all moral authority to speak out elsewhere.
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) May 28, 2020
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also defended the autonomy of Hong Kong, asserting that “freedom of expression and assembly and also democratic debate in Hong Kong must continue to be respected in the future”.
China, meanwhile, said it would take necessary countermeasures to any foreign interference into what it insists are its internal affairs.
Premier Li Keqiang, in a news conference on Thursday, called for mutual respect and Sino-US cooperation to promote “extensive common interests” in resolving global problems and promoting trade, science and other fields.
“Both countries stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation,” Li said.