BRUSSELS/TOKYO (Reuters) - China’s passage of a national security law for Hong Kong drew international condemnation on Tuesday, with the United States and its Asian and Western allies criticising a move that heralds a more authoritarian era for the former British colony.
The law punishes crimes of secession, subversion and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison in Hong Kong, which was guaranteed freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland under a “one country, two systems” formula at its 1997 handover.
“As Beijing now treats Hong Kong as ‘One Country, One System,’ so must the United States,” White House National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot said in a statement. “We urge Beijing to immediately reverse course.”
“The United States will continue to take strong actions against those who smothered Hong Kong’s freedom and autonomy.”
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called for sanctions and other steps against China, saying the “brutal” law would “frighten, intimidate and suppress” those peacefully seeking freedom.
China says the law is necessary to tackle secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces following anti-government protests that escalated in June last year and plunged the city into its biggest crisis in decades.
But British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the legislation a “grave step”, saying China had chosen to break its promises to the people of Hong Kong. Britain will not turn its back on its commitments to Hong Kong, he tweeted.
Britain and some two dozen Western countries urged China to reconsider the law, saying Beijing must preserve the right to assembly and free press in the former British colony.
“We wish to raise our deep concerns at the imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong which undermines ‘One Country, Two Systems’, and has clear implications for human rights,” Julian Braithwaite, Britain’s ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, told the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Braithwaite spoke on behalf of 27 countries, many of them European Union members, as well as Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and Switzerland.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the law will not affect Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms, nor investor interests.
Despite such the assurances, the European Union has warned of serious consequences over the law, which democracy activists, diplomats and some businesses say will jeopardise Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status and its role as a global financial hub.
The EU underlined those concerns on Tuesday.
“We deplore the decision,” EU Council President Charles Michel told a news conference.
“This law risks seriously undermining the high degree of autonomy of Hong Kong and having a detrimental effect on the independence of the judiciary and the rule of law.”
Last week, the European Parliament urged the bloc to take China to the International Court of Justice in the Hague, the United Nations’ highest legal body, if it went ahead.
In Tokyo, top government officials called the legislation “regrettable”, saying it undermined credibility in the “one country, two systems” formula.
Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters he shared the “deep concern” of the international community and the people of Hong Kong over the measure.
Taiwan’s cabinet said the new law would “severely impact” freedom, democracy and human rights and Taiwan would continue to offer help to people in Hong Kong.
Last year’s protests drew wide sympathy in democratic and Chinese-claimed Taiwan, which has welcomed people from Hong Kong who have moved to the island and expects more.
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen said she was “very disappointed” by China’s move, adding that it showed the “one country, two systems” formula, which Beijing has mooted as a basis for unification with the mainland, “was not feasible”.
Defending the law, Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed leader, Carrie Lam, urged the international community to respect China’s right to safeguard security.
In a video message to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, Lam said the city of 7.5 million had been “traumatized by escalating violence fanned by external forces”.
“No central government could turn a blind eye to such threats to sovereignty and national security, as well as risks of subversion of state power,” she said.
Reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels; Guy Faulconbridge in London; Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Chang-Ran Kim and Ju-min Park in Tokyo and Yimou Lee and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Clarence Fernandez; Editing by Robert Birsel, William Maclean