The foreign ministers of Australia, the United States, the United Kingdom and Canada have expressed “serious concern” about the arrests of 55 democracy activists and supporters in Hong Kong last week.
In a joint statement on Sunday, the four foreign ministers called on China to respect the freedoms of the people in the semi-autonomous territory and condemned the use of a draconian national security law to carry out the arrests.
“It is clear that the National Security Law is being used to eliminate dissent and opposing political views,” the foreign ministers said.
The dawn crackdown on Wednesday involved 1,000 police officers and was by far the largest such action taken since China imposed the national security legislation last year.
The Chinese and Hong Kong governments say the law – banning secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – is needed to restore order in a city that was rocked in 2019 by months of often violent anti-government protests demanding greater democracy.
Most of those arrested last week had taken part in an unofficial primary for a legislative election that was later postponed. Authorities allege the primary was part of a plot to take control of the legislature to paralyse government and force the city’s leader to resign.
The 55 have not been charged, and all but three have been released on bail, pending further investigation. Convictions could disqualify them from running for office.
The four foreign ministers said the next legislative election should include candidates representing a range of political opinions. Only half the city’s legislature is elected by popular vote.
“We call on the Hong Kong and Chinese central authorities to respect the legally guaranteed rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong without fear of arrest and detention,” they wrote.
The statement was signed by Marise Payne of Australia, Francois-Philippe Champagne of Canada, Dominic Raab of the UK and Mike Pompeo of the United States.
On Thursday, Pompeo also said Washington may sanction those involved in the arrests and will send the US ambassador to the United Nations to visit Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by China.
China has sharply criticised the upcoming visit, while the Taiwan government has welcomed it.
Pompeo on Saturday also announced that the US is voiding longstanding restrictions on how its diplomats and others have contact with their counterparts in Taiwan.
The actions on Taiwan and Hong Kong will undoubtedly anger China, which views such moves as foreign interference in its internal affairs.