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Joshua Wong, centre, and other Demosisto Party members distribute flyers against China's controversial national security law for Hong Kong, in Hong Kong, on May 22, 2020.ANTHONY WALLACE/AFP/Getty Images

Canada and western allies have strongly condemned China’s authoritarian leaders for planning to impose a harsh national security law that would ban “treason, secession, sedition and subversion” in Hong Kong – a move seen as a major blow to the city’s cherished freedoms.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who has been reluctant to be overtly critical of Beijing, said he was alarmed by China’s decision to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong that could curb pro-democracy protests and dramatically reduce the territory’s autonomy.

“We are concerned about the situation in Hong Kong. We have 300,000 Canadians who live in Hong Kong,” Mr. Trudeau told reporters Friday “That is one of the reasons why we want to ensure that one-country, two-systems approach continues for Hong Kong.”

In a joint statement on Friday, Canada, the United Kingdom and Australia said Beijing’s imposition of a sweeping new security law on Hong Kong “would clearly undermine” the freedoms guaranteed to the former British colony in the Sino-British treaty of 1984.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab and Australian Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said they were “deeply concerned” by what Beijing has proposed.

In the statement, they reminded China it signed a “legally binding” declaration in the 1980s that sets out the “high degree of autonomy” Hong Kong would enjoy for 50 years after the 1997 handover of the colony.

It had pledged that “rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of the press, of assembly, of association and others will be ensured by law in Hong Kong,” as well as the provisions of two United Nations covenants on human rights.

Introducing this new law “without the direct participation” of Hong Kong’s people, legislature or judiciary would be a breach of the guarantees China had signed, the countries said.

The National People’s Congress, meeting in an annual session to rubber stamp major policy passed by China’s ruling Communist Party, announced on Thursday it planned to adopt a law to “safeguard national security” by “establishing and improving the legal system and enforcement mechanisms” for Hong Kong.

The proposed legislation would permit Beijing to sidestep Hong Kong’s own legislative body to limit protests or other activities that China’s authoritarian rulers consider subversive.

Wang Chen, a Politburo member, said Friday that the legislation would allow China’s security agencies to set up operations in Hong Kong on a large scale, saying this was necessary because “anti-China, disrupt Hong Kong forces have been openly promoting Hong Kong independence.”

“There must be vigorous measures under the law to prevent, halt and punish them,” Mr. Wang said.

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam, currently in Beijing for the annual congress, told reporters on Friday that she supported the bill, saying it would safeguard the security of all Hong Kong residents.

But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Beijing’s decision a “death knell” for the freedoms enjoyed by the territory.

“The United States strongly urges Beijing to reconsider its disastrous proposal, abide by its international obligations, and respect Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, democratic institutions, and civil liberties,” Mr. Pompeo said in a statement.

The European Union also urged China to respect the territory’s freedoms, with Brussels’ diplomatic chief Josep Borrell calling for “the preservation of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”

“The European Union has a strong stake in the continued stability and prosperity of Hong Kong under the ‘One Country Two Systems’ principle,” Mr. Borrell said.

The strong condemnation from western nations is likely to infuriate the Chinese regime which has also been criticized for its handling of the novel coronavirus pandemic along with espionage activities and trade policies.

The Chinese embassy in Ottawa did not have any immediate response, but Beijing’s foreign affairs spokesperson Zhao Lijian said “no country in the world would tolerate separatist and other activities that undermine national security within its territory.”

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed to China in 1997 and has been governed by a system that guaranteed freedoms, such as those related to speech and elections, that are not allowed on mainland China.

Pro-democracy activists have called for mass protests against the new national-security law. Critics say Beijing is using the COVID-19 pandemic to push it through.

Mass protests on the island last year were sparked by a bill that would have allowed extraditions to mainland China.

As The Globe and Mail first reported earlier this month, 46 Hong Kong citizens – many of whom took part in the massive demonstrations there – are seeking asylum in Canada, citing harassment and brutality at the hands of police and fear of unjust prosecution.

With files from Reuters

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