China has defended its decision to oust four pro-democracy lawmakers from Hong Kong as “the right medicine” for the city, blasting foreign governments for “meddling” in domestic issues that are none of its business.
“The plain fact is that it is exactly these politicians who have arbitrarily meddled with China’s internal affairs,” said the Chinese foreign ministry in a statement. “It is these politicians who have breached their international obligations.”
Pandemonium erupted in Hong Kong’s parliament this week as 15 pro-democracy lawmakers resigned in protest after government officials dismissed four of their colleagues on alleged national security grounds, yet another step in a broader crackdown from Beijing to quash dissent.
Many foreign governments have condemned China for dismissing the lawmakers.
The UK on Thursday declared China to be in formal breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN-registered treaty meant to preserve Hong Kong’s freedoms after the former British colony was returned to Beijing rule under the Communist Party.
Unseating four pro-democracy lawmakers, however, amounted to a “clear breach” of that agreement, said Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.
“Beijing has eliminated nearly all of Hong Kong’s promised autonomy, as it neuters democratic processes and legal traditions that have been the bedrock of Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity,” said US secretary of state Mike Pompeo.
“Once again, the [Chinese Communist Party’s] twisted vision of patriotism is a pretext to stifle freedom and the call for democracy.”
China has long sought to wrest control of Hong Kong, where protest movements over eroding freedoms have erupted every few years since Beijing resumed control of the territory from Britain in 1997.
Discontent peaked last year when millions of Hong Kong people took to the streets, disrupting the city with mass protests that often ended in violence with police firing tear gas and rubber bullets.
Demonstrations abated with the coronavirus pandemic, and after a sweeping national security law was imposed by Beijing this summer. The law criminalises acts authorities deem as secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign collusion, punishable by up to life in prison.
The ousting of four pro-democracy lawmakers from Hong Kong’s legislature was “the right medicine” for the city, China said, telling foreign governments the issue was none of their business.
Fifteen politicians vowed to quit in anger after their colleagues were removed on national security grounds by the Beijing-appointed chief executive, boosting fears that the room for dissent in Hong Kong is shrinking.
Millions of Hong Kongers took to the streets last year in months of disruptive protests over ebbing freedoms. Demonstrations were stamped out by the pandemic and a swingeing new law that made certain opinions illegal overnight.
The expulsions this week were “the right medicine that will start a new chapter in ensuring smooth operation” of Hong Kong’s legislature, said China’s foreign ministry in Hong Kong in a statement dated Thursday.
“The decision is intended to guarantee normal operation of governing bodies… and better ensure Hong Kong is governed by Hong Kong people with a high degree of autonomy,” it said.
Britain — which handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 — summoned China’s ambassador in London on Thursday, accusing Beijing of breaking international treaty obligations that guaranteed the financial hub special status and a high degree of autonomy.
London has increasingly locked horns with China since Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on Hong Kong this year.
The European Union urged the “immediate reinstatement” of the lawmakers, and Canada said their ousting had the effect of “eroding human rights in Hong Kong”.
China pushed back at the criticism, telling a “handful of foreign politicians to grasp the trend of the times, keep their hands off China’s internal affairs, stop meddling with Hong Kong affairs in any form, and avoid going further down the wrong path.”
London has already angered Beijing by offering Hong Kongers holding British National Overseas passports a route to UK citizenship by relaxing entry and residency requirements.
Hong Kong’s leader is chosen by pro-Beijing committees, but half of the legislature’s 70 seats are directly elected, offering the city’s 7.5 million residents a rare chance to have their voices heard at the ballot box.
The expulsions and resignations will leave just two legislators outside the pro-Beijing camp, both of them unaligned with either bloc.