Australia has expressed “deep concern” over China’s proposed Hong Kong security laws, which it says will undermine the city’s autonomy.
The Chinese Communist Party unveiled the details of the legislation on Friday (local time), which critics say will affect rights, freedoms and judicial independence for the 7.5 million people who live there.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne joined her counterparts in the UK and Canada in saying the laws would be contrary to the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984.
Under that pact China agreed to allow Hong Kong to continue as a capitalist economy after the 1997 handover, with its people extended the same democratic rights and freedoms enjoyed under the British for 50 years
“We are deeply concerned at proposals for introducing legislation related to national security in Hong Kong,” the foreign ministers’ statement said.
“The legally binding Joint Declaration, signed by China and the United Kingdom, sets out that Hong Kong will have a high degree of autonomy.”
The ministers said the joint declaration provides that rights and freedoms, including freedoms of the press and of people to assemble and associate, be ensured in Hong Kong law.
The provisions of the UN covenants on human rights also remain in force under the joint declaration.
— Marise Payne (@MarisePayne) May 22, 2020
“Making such a law on Hong Kong’s behalf, without the direct participation of its people, legislature or judiciary, would clearly undermine the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy,” the ministers said.
Meanwhile 20 Australian MPs and senators have joined nearly 200 political figures from around the world signing a joint statement organised by former Hong Kong Governor Christopher Patten and former British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind.
The 186 law and policy leaders said the proposed laws were a “comprehensive assault on the city’s autonomy, rule of law and fundamental freedoms” and a “flagrant breach” of the Chinese-British Joint Declaration that returned Hong Kong to China in 1997.
“If the international community cannot trust Beijing to keep its word when it comes to Hong Kong, people will be reluctant to take its word on other matters,” they wrote.
Britain, Australia and Canada have large populations of naturalised Hongkongers, thousands of whom fled the city before handover to China in 1997, and Hong Kong expatriates.
Speaking hours after the legislation was presented to the country’s peak legislative body, Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam sought to assure residents and investors that the law would protect, rather than hurt, their rights.
She maintained that it would not undermine the governing principle of “one country, two systems” for Hong Kong, its high degree of autonomy or the cherished principle of “Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong”.
However pro-democracy activists and politicians in Hong Kong have for years opposed such legislation, arguing it could erode the city’s autonomy.
Some pro-democracy lawmakers have denounced the plans as “the end of Hong Kong”.