US slams China’s ‘direct attack’ on Hong Kong’s autonomy

The US condemns China’s proposed new veto powers on Hong Kong’s selection of politicians, saying it is a direct attack on the territory’s autonomy.

Price said Washington was working at 'galvanising' action against China's human rights abuses [File: Tom Brenner/Pool/Reuters]

The United States has called China’s moves to change the Hong Kong electoral system “a direct attack” on its autonomy and democratic processes, saying Washington is working at “galvanising collective action” against Chinese rights abuses.

The US condemnation came on Friday, shortly after Beijing proposed legislation that would tighten its increasingly authoritarian grip on Hong Kong by making changes to the electoral committee that chooses the city’s leader, giving it new power to nominate legislative candidates.

The measure, set to be approved during a week-long session of China’s rubber-stamp parliament, would further marginalise a democratic opposition decimated after Beijing imposed national security legislation following anti-government protests that rocked Hong Kong in 2019.

The US condemns China’s “continuing assault on democratic institutions in Hong Kong”, State Department spokesman Ned Price told a regular news briefing.

Price called Beijing’s moves “a direct attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy … freedoms and the democratic processes”.

“If implemented these measures would drastically undermine Hong Kong democratic institutions,” he said.

Price said Washington was working to rally allies and partners to speak with one voice in condemning China’s abuses against minority Muslims in Xinjiang and the “repression” taking place in Hong Kong.

“I don’t think anyone is satisfied yet, with the international response to what has taken place in Xinjiang. And that’s precisely why we are, in many ways, galvanising the world, galvanising collective action, to make clear that these sort of abuses against human rights in Xinjiang and elsewhere will not be tolerated,” he said.

US President Joe Biden’s administration, which took office in January, has endorsed a determination by the former US administration that China is committing genocide in Xinjiang and said that Washington must be prepared to impose costs on Beijing for its actions there, its crackdown in Hong Kong and threats towards Taiwan.

Limited options

Robert Scott, a senior international economist at the Economic Policy Institute, told Al Jazeera that the US has limited options to put pressure on China.

“Certainly we can sanction China in international arenas. We can consider putting limits on their diplomats, limit their voting rights in international forums like the International Monetary Fund where China has sought increased representation,” he said.

Scott said the key was to curtail China’s growing economic power which the US had failed to do for over two decades as China filled up enormous trade surpluses and it has used these to fuel its growing influence around the world.

“There are sanctions that the United States can put in place on businesses operating in Hong Kong, especially Chinese businesses,” he said.

“Unfortunately, China has decided that it does not need the financial power that was tested in Hong Kong before it is powerful enough itself. China is sitting on some $5 trillion in foreign exchange reserves.

“It has become one of the largest foreign investors in the world. So it is going to be less damaged by the fact that businesses may move from Hong Kong to Taiwan or to Singapore and other countries.”

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies