Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has condemned China for passing its controversial security law in a statement that accuses Beijing of “curtailing” Hong Kong’s liberties.
The statement, which has also been signed by Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Canadian Foreign Minister François-Philippe Champagne, and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, comes after the draft legislation was officially endorsed by the National People’s Congress in Beijing.
Riot police have been deployed in Hong Kong over fears violent clashes could break out over the legislation, which would mean China could set up intelligence bases across the territory.
Mr Raab and his colleagues expressed their “deepest concern” over the passing of the bill, claiming it risks “eroding Hong Kong‘s autonomy” and goes back on the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The statement reads: “Direct imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the Beijing authorities, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions as provided for under Article 23 of the Basic Law, would curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties, and in doing so, dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous.”
The vote overrides the authority of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, where efforts to push the bill through had been thwarted by public opposition.
Chinese officials will now draft details of the new law, which it is believed will ban sedition – actions that encourage dissent against China‘s authorities.
Beijing says the legislation is aimed at tackling secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.
Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, claimed in a statement welcoming the vote: “The law will not affect the rights and freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kong residents.”
But campaigners in the city were despondent, with pro-democracy lawmaker Dennis Kwok telling reporters: “This is the death knell for Hong Kong, make no mistake of it, this is the end of ‘one country, two systems’ … the Hong Kong that we loved, a free Hong Kong.”
Thousands of people have already taken to the streets in anger over the bill, with demonstrators staying out late into the evening on Wednesday.
They believe it will undermine civil liberties and might be used to suppress political activity.
They were heard chanting for full democracy and for Hong Kong to seek independence from China, saying this is now “the only way out”.
And it came against the backdrop of escalating threats from Washington, where Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Hong Kong no longer qualified for special treatment under US law, potentially dealing a devastating blow to its status as a major financial hub.
He told Congress that China’s plan to impose the new legislation was “only the latest in a series of actions that fundamentally undermine Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms”.
“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” he said.
China’s new bill is expected to see Chinese intelligence agencies set up bases in the city, which was supposed to have a high degree of autonomy under the terms of its 1997 handover by former colonial power Britain.
Chinese authorities and the Beijing-backed government in Hong Kong insisted there is no threat to the city’s high degree of autonomy and the new security law would be tightly focused.
The US and China clashed over Hong Kong at the United Nations on Wednesday after Beijing opposed a request by Washington for the Security Council to meet for discussions about the legislation.
The US mission to the UN said the issue was “a matter of urgent global concern that implicates international peace and security”, while China said the legislation was an internal matter.
Why this legislation was a huge surprise – and a massive accelerant
By Tom Cheshire, Asia Correspondent
Amid the pandemic, it’s been much observed that history accelerates in crisis. Here in Beijing, years have been compressed into the last week, in terms of China, Hong Kong and the rest of the world.
On Friday, the National People’s Congress proposed national security legislation to cover Hong Kong. It was a huge surprise – and a massive accelerant. Hong Kong’s autonomy was supposed to last until 2047.
Beijing and Hong Kong insist that Hong Kong’s freedoms will be preserved. The US disagrees. Mike Pompeo, the US Secretary of State, told Congress that “no reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given the facts on the ground”.
It’s probable that the US will go on to impose sanctions – something unthinkable last year, even amid the heights of the Hong Kong protests and the heavy-handed police response. And US-China relations will reach their lowest ebb since the Korean War, nearly 70 years ago.
Why has so much happened, so quickly, in this case? The pandemic initially looked to be a threat to the Chinese Communist Party.
Instead, they contained it, at the same time as the West grimly tallied tens of thousands of deaths. Washington railed against Beijing – the same trajectory as pre-pandemic, but now with much more vigour and much higher stakes.
Beijing responded equally forcefully. It has always wanted to bring Hong Kong to heel but seemed to be happy to wait and, year by year, grip Hong Kong tighter.
The pandemic accelerated time, so China seized this moment now, and that has accelerated time once more.
Issues like Taiwan – and China’s ultimate aim to “reunify” or in fact annexe it – seemed a generation in the future. Now they are conceivably short term.
Last year, protesters told me of their fear that, one day, Hong Kong would become “just another Chinese city”. The US is now saying that this is exactly the case. “One day” has come very quickly for the people of Hong Kong.