February 29, 2024

UK, US blast Hong Kong’s proposed new security law

UK, US blast Hong Kong's proposed new security law

The United States and Britain on Wednesday criticised the Hong Kong government over a proposed new national security law, saying it would curtail freedoms in the finance hub.

Massive pro-democracy protests rocked Hong Kong in 2019, bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the streets to call for greater freedoms.

In response, Beijing imposed a national security law to punish four major crimes — secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces — with sentences ranging up to life in prison.

Hong Kong officials said last month a further homegrown security law was needed to plug “loopholes”, with justice chief Paul Lam saying he had heard no objections during a month of public consultations that ends on Wednesday.

“We are particularly concerned by Hong Kong authorities’ proposal to adopt broad and vague definitions of ‘state secrets’ and ‘external interference’ that could be used to eliminate dissent through the fear of arrest and detention,” US State Department Spokesman Matthew Miller said in a statement.

UK Foreign minister David Cameron urged the government in Hong Kong “to re-consider their proposals and engage in genuine and meaningful consultation with the people of Hong Kong”.

Britain is the former colonial power in Hong Kong, handing over control to China in 1997.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration that set the conditions of the handover stipulated that for 50 years, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) would “maintain a high degree of autonomy and that the rights and freedoms… would continue”.

“As a co-signatory to the Joint Declaration, the UK has a responsibility to ensure that those rights and freedoms are maintained,” Cameron added.

Under its mini-constitution, known as the Basic Law, Hong Kong is required to pass its own law combating seven security-related crimes, including treason and espionage.

The last legislative attempt in 2003 was shelved after half a million Hong Kongers took to the streets to protest the move.

However, since the imposition of Beijing’s security law in 2020, most requests for protest permits have been denied, and those that demonstrate anyway have often faced prosecution.

No ‘sovereign power’ 

China’s foreign affairs commissioner in Hong Kong condemned Cameron’s statement as “irresponsible” and “vicious smearing”.

“The UK does not have sovereign power, governing power or supervision power over the post-handover Hong Kong,” the commissioner’s spokesperson said Thursday.

Hong Kong’s Security Bureau said it “strongly disapproves and rejects the biased and erroneous remarks” by Cameron in a statement issued on Thursday.

Secretary for Security Chris Tang accused Cameron of deliberately omitting the fact that Hong Kong carried out a public consultation on the legislation.

The bureau said nearly 99 percent of the more than 13,000 submissions received during the consultation were supportive, while several of those opposed came from “overseas anti-China organisations or abscondees”.

Tang also maintained the law had international precedent, adding “the UK has more than 10 draconian laws to defend its national security, hence Cameron’s remarks have shown his double standards”.

Top Hong Kong government adviser Regina Ip, meanwhile, said “it is ridiculous for the UKG to claim it has oversight on how Hong Kong enacts its national security law under the Sino-British Joint Declaration”.

“If UKG does take its human rights obligations seriously, it would not have legitimised its scheme to send refugee claimants to Rwanda,” Ip wrote on X, formerly Twitter.