by Helen Roxburgh
China accused the US of taking the UN hostage on Friday over a controversial security law for Hong Kong and warned Western nations to stay out of its internal affairs.
The US, Britain, Canada and Australia led criticism of the planned law, which would punish secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and acts that endanger national security, as well as allow Chinese security agencies to operate openly in Hong Kong.
China’s rubber-stamp parliament on Thursday approved the plans for the law, which followed seven months of huge and sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong last year.
After China fended off initial American efforts this week to have the controversy put on the agenda of the United Nations Security Council, the US and Britain succeeded in securing an informal discussion about it for Friday, diplomatic sources told AFP.
Beijing’s proposed security law “lies in direct conflict” with China’s international obligations to guarantee certain freedoms in Hong Kong, the four countries said in a joint statement.
“The proposed law would undermine the One Country, Two Systems framework,” they added, referring to Hong Kong’s special status within China under the terms of its handover from Britain in 1997.
Beijing said Friday it had lodged official protests to the four countries.
“We urge the related countries to respect China’s sovereignty (and) stop interfering in Hong Kong’s and China’s internal affairs,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said at a regular press briefing.
He also slammed the US approach as “totally unreasonable” and said China would not allow the US to “kidnap the Council for its own purposes.”
“We urge the US to immediately stop this senseless political manipulation,” Zhao said.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also said London would widen its rules around the rights of British National (Overseas) passport holders — a status offered to many Hong Kongers at the time of handover — if China went ahead with the new law.
Zhao warned that Beijing reserves the right to take “corresponding countermeasures”.
The Chinese parliament’s vote came just hours after Washington revoked the special status conferred on Hong Kong, paving the way for the territory to be stripped of trading and economic privileges.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the status had been withdrawn because China was no longer honouring its handover agreement with Britain to allow Hong Kong a high level of autonomy.
President Donald Trump also announced he would hold a press conference on Friday about China, with Hong Kong and other flashpoint issues — including the coronavirus, espionage and trade — almost certain to be brought up.
“We’re not happy with China,” Trump told reporters on Thursday.
China has remained defiant in the face of Western criticism on Hong Kong, insisting “foreign forces” are to blame for fuelling the pro-democracy movement and creating turmoil in the city of 7.5 million people.
Li Zhanshu — chairman of the NPC Standing Committee which will now draft the law — said Thursday the move was “in line with the fundamental interests of all Chinese people, including Hong Kong compatriots”.
Under the “one country, two systems” model agreed before the city’s return from Britain to China, Hong Kong is supposed to be guaranteed certain liberties until 2047 that are denied to those on the mainland.
The mini-constitution that has governed Hong Kong’s affairs since the handover obliges the territory’s authorities to enact national security laws.
But huge protests blocked an effort to do so in 2003, and Hong Kong’s government then shelved it while watching the pro-democracy movement grow.
China’s state-run media on Friday said the law was in the interests of protecting peace and autonomy in Hong Kong.
“Safeguarding national security is a must, rather than a choice,” the official news agency Xinhua in a commentary.
Communist Party mouthpiece the People’s Daily said in an editorial that law would only target “a small minority of people who are suspected of committing crimes that endanger national security.”
In Hong Kong, the pro-democracy movement voiced the opposite sentiments.
“It’s the end of Hong Kong,” opposition lawmaker Claudia Mo told AFP.
“They are cutting off our souls, taking away the values which we’ve always embraced — values like human rights, democracy, rule of law.”