China's Hong Kong Move an Assault on Democracy, Autonomy: Foreign Ministers

China's Hong Kong Move an Assault on Democracy, Autonomy: Foreign Ministers China's national flag is displayed at a stall where residents can sign in favor of changes imposed by China to the local electoral system that grants Beijing veto powers over candidates in Hong Kong, March 11, 2021.

The international community has condemned recent changes by the ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to Hong Kong's political system, saying the insistence that political candidates be pre-approved by Beijing is an "assault" on the limited democracy the city once enjoyed.

China's National People's Congress (NPC) on Thursday approved new rules preventing anyone from standing for election in Hong Kong without the approval of a newly-expanded committee of Beijing loyalists.

The move came after ruling Chinese Communist Party (CCP) officials said only those deemed "patriots" by Beijing should be allowed to hold public office in the city.

"The United States condemns[China's] continuing assault on democratic institutions in Hong Kong," U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.  

"The National People’s Congress decision ... to unilaterally change Hong Kong’s electoral system is a direct attack on autonomy promised to people in Hong Kong under the Sino-British Joint Declaration," he said, in a reference to the 1984 bilateral treaty governing the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to China.

"These actions deny Hong Kongers a voice in their own governance by limiting political participation, reducing democratic representation, and stifling political debate," Blinken said.

He called on the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to release all arrestees under a draconian national security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing from July 1, 2020, and to allow delayed elections to the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) to proceed.

Trust in China undermined

In the U.K., foreign secretary Dominic Raab said the move would further undermine international trust in the CCP under general secretary Xi Jinping.

"This is the latest step by Beijing to hollow out the space for democratic debate in Hong Kong, contrary to the promises made by China itself," Raab said in a statement.

"This can only further undermine confidence and trust in China living up to its international responsibilities and legal obligations, as a leading member of the international community," he said.

Under the new rules, the Election Committee that previously voted for the city's chief executive will be expanded, and now also pick some members of the Legislative Council (LegCo).

Nobody will be able to stand as a candidate for LegCo or chief executive in the city without its say-so, reducing what were already only partial exercises in democracy to cosmetic displays that can only result in a slate of candidates all loyal to the CCP.

The reactions from London and Washington were echoed in Canberra, with Australian foreign minister Marise Payne calling on the Chinese authorities to respect people's rights.

“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,” Payne said in a statement.

Bail hearings

Back in Hong Kong, long lines formed outside West Kowloon Magistrate's Court on Friday, as bail hearings continued for 47 pro-democracy politicians and activists charged with "conspiracy to subvert state power" under the national security law, after they ran a democratic primary election in August 2020.

The defendants waved and made victory Vs and heart gestures to supporters and loved ones sitting in the public gallery, with some shouting quips about prison food.

The 47 defendants are accused of trying to bring down the government by holding the primary, with a view to winning enough seats in LegCo to block government budgets. Only five have been granted bail so far.

Meanwhile, veteran rights activist Frank Lu, who has provided information on China's human rights and pro-democracy movement to the media for decades, said he would be deleting any information he holds on Hong Kong-based political cases for fear of having it seized by the newly formed national security police.

Chan Chi-cheung, a supporter of Lu's Human Rights and Democracy Information Center, said Hong Kong was once seen as China's window on the the rest of the world, that would boost its political and economic openness.

"We once thought that Hong Kong's economic strength and rule of law could influence mainland China eventually, but now it seems as if mainland China has taken over Hong Kong," Chan told RFA.

"This is a tragedy; a bitter fruit that will be tasted to the full by everyone in Hong Kong and mainland China over the next decade," he said.

Reported by Gigi Lee and Lau Siu Fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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