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US slams China’s Hong Kong electoral changes

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The US has condemned Chinese moves to change Hong Kong’s electoral system and forecast “difficult” talks with Beijing’s top diplomats next week.

At those talks, the US plans to raise what it considers to be the genocide that China is committing against minority Muslims.

White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan would not hold back when they meet with the Chinese diplomats in Alaska on March 18 and 19, “whether it’s on Taiwan, or … efforts to push back democracy in Hong Kong, or on concerns we have about the economic relationship”.

“Addressing the genocide against Uighur Muslims is something that will be a topic of discussion with the Chinese directly next week,” she added.

China rejects US charges that it has committed genocide against Uighur and other Muslims in its Xinjiang region. It calls criticism of its behaviour towards Hong Kong and self-ruled Taiwan unwarranted interference in its internal affairs.

On Thursday, China’s parliament approved a draft decision to change Hong Kong’s electoral system, further reducing democratic representation in the city’s institutions and introducing a mechanism to vet politicians’ loyalty to Beijing.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price called the changes “a direct attack on Hong Kong’s autonomy, its freedoms and democratic processes”.

“There will be some difficult conversations I would expect,” he said, referring to the talks Mr Blinken and Mr Sullivan plan to hold in Anchorage with China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and State Councillor Wang Yi, the first high-level in-person contacts between the two sparring countries under the Biden administration.

Mr Price said Washington would explore areas for co-operation with China where it was in the US interest, including climate change, but called on Beijing to change if it wanted to improve the frayed relationship.

“We’re not looking to engage in talks for the sake of talks,” he said.

“We are looking for Beijing … to demonstrate that seriousness of purpose, to demonstrate that it seeks to live up to its own oft-stated desire to change the tone of the bilateral relationship.”

President Joe Biden’s administration has committed to reviewing elements of US policies toward China, as the world’s two largest economies navigate relations that sank to their lowest depths in decades during Donald Trump’s presidency.

Mr Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping held their first phone call as leaders in February and appeared at odds on most issues, even as Mr Xi warned that confrontation would be a “disaster” for both nations.

-AAP