China forged ahead with national-security legislation for Hong Kong on Thursday as Canada and its allies heavily criticized a law they warned could be used as a tool for political persecution.
In a joint statement with the United States, Britain and Australia, Canada accused China of jeopardizing international co-operation during the COVID-19 pandemic by imposing such a measure on Hong Kong, a former British colony.
Bilateral relations between Canada and China have been inflamed in recent days after a B.C. court rejected a request from Chinese telecom giant Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou to stop her extradition to the U.S. Canada is bracing for economic retaliation from Beijing over the court decision in a high-profile case that has placed Canada in the middle of a power struggle between the U.S. and China.
Canada and its allies said Beijing’s security law breaches the agreement it signed with Britain to allow Hong Kong’s capitalist system and freedoms, including freedom of speech and an independent judiciary, to continue for 50 years after its 1997 handover to China.
“The proposed law would undermine the one-country, two-systems framework. It also raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, and undermines existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people,” the four allies said.
Beijing has signalled it plans to enact a law that would make it illegal to undermine its authority in Hong Kong, a move it says is aimed at tackling secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.
Canada and its allies said China is shirking its responsibilities under a 1984 Sino-British treaty in a manner that will “dramatically erode” the freedom Hong Kong was promised and deepen the huge divisions in the city after almost a year of intense anti-government protests.
They also warned that Beijing’s action threatens to destroy the special status that fuelled Hong Kong’s economic growth.
“Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom. The international community has a significant and long-standing stake in Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability," said the statement, which was issued by Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne.
"Direct imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the Beijing authorities, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions ... would curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties, and in doing so, dramatically erode the autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous.”
U.S. President Donald Trump also said separately he would give a news conference on China on Friday, as his administration moves to press Beijing over its treatment of Hong Kong.
The joint statement is one of the strongest criticisms of Beijing to date from the Trudeau government, which has generally been cautious when speaking about China.
China arrested and has been holding two Canadian citizens in apparent retaliation for the 2018 arrest at the Vancouver International Airport of Ms. Meng, the chief financial officer of Huawei Technologies Ltd., on an extradition request from the U.S. Beijing also imposed punitive measures on Canadian farm exports.
The joint statement coincides with rising anger in China over the fate of Ms. Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder and a former People’s Liberation Army engineer.
On Wednesday, she lost a legal bid to cut short the extradition process when a B.C. judge ruled the case can proceed – a judgment that drew harsh criticism from China. Beijing’s Ottawa embassy called Canada an “accomplice” of the U.S. government, and the Chinese Communist Party’s Global Times newspaper said the ruling reflected the fact that Ottawa has surrendered its judicial independence to Washington.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declined to comment when asked Thursday at a virtual meeting of the UN to deal with COVID-19 about whether China violated freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony.
However, Mr. Trudeau used the global forum to call on China to release Canadians Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor and he stood by the B.C Supreme Court’s ruling. “We have an independent judicial system that has rendered a judgment without any political interference,” Mr. Trudeau said.
“We will continue to advocate for the release of the two Canadians, arbitrarily detained in China and I take this opportunity to thank the international community for standing so strongly with Canada in this situation.”
China’s Global Times warned Canada risks plunging bilateral relations into a “new freeze” and cautioning Chinese businesses to think twice about investing there. “Chinese companies are therefore advised to reassess the uncertainty of doing business in or with the country.”
Former diplomat Charles Burton, a senior fellow at the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, said he was pleased to see Canada act in unison with its allies but was disappointed there was no mention of dual citizens in Hong Kong.
“I wish there had been as great an expression of concern for the 300,000 Canadians in Hong Kong, specifically to request that the government of China would recognize their Canadian citizenship should they be caught up in actions taken by Chinese police or other agencies when the Hong Kong national security law is implemented,” he said.
Roland Paris, a former foreign-policy adviser to Mr. Trudeau, said Ottawa must continue to emphasize the B.C. Supreme Court ruling is part of an independent legal process and that Ms. Meng will continue to have her full rights to represent herself as the process unfolds in the courts.
However, Mr. Paris said he is concerned about China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea, its national security law for Hong Kong, aggressive language toward Taiwan and the enactment of stiff tariffs on Australian barley after Canberra called for an independent investigation of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Tensions are mounting and it’s important – not just to be pushing back against aggressive Chinese actions – but also to ensure that these tensions don’t spin out of control,” he said.
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