CANBERRA, Australia (AP) – The foreign ministers of Australia, the United States, Britain and Canada issued a joint statement Sunday expressing “serious concern” over the arrest of 55 Democratic activists and supporters in Hong Kong last week.
The arrests were the largest such action under a national security law imposed by China on the semi-autonomous territory just over six months ago.
“It is clear that the National Security Act is being used to eliminate disagreements and opposing political views,” the four foreign ministers said.
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Chinese and Hong Kong governments say the law is needed to restore order in a city that was shaken in 2019 by months of often violent anti-government protests demanding greater democracy.
“We are appalled by remarks made by some foreign officials who seem to have suggested that people with certain political beliefs should be immune to legal sanctions,” the Hong Kong government said in response to the foreign ministers’ statement.
Most of those arrested last week had run in an unofficial primary election for the legislative election, which was later postponed. Authorities say the primary was part of a conspiracy to seize the legislature to paralyze the government and force the city’s leader to resign.
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No charges have been filed against the 55, and all but three have been released on bail pending further investigation. Convictions can deprive them of candidacies.
The four foreign ministers said the next legislative election should include candidates representing a number of political views. Only half of the city’s legislature is elected by universal suffrage.
“We call on the central authorities of Hong Kong and China to respect the legally guaranteed rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong without fear of arrest and detention,” they wrote.
The statement was signed by Maris Payne of Australia, Francois-Philippe Champagne of Canada, Dominic Raab of the United Kingdom and Mike Pompeo of the United States.
Separately, Pompeo announced on Saturday that the United States was lifting long-standing restrictions on the way its diplomats and others have contact with counterparts in Taiwan, a self-governing island that China says should be under its control.
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Actions against Taiwan and Hong Kong will undoubtedly anger China, which sees such actions as foreign interference in its internal affairs.
The Trump administration, which is in its final days, also sent Kelly Kraft, its ambassador to the United Nations, later this week. China has sharply criticized the upcoming visit, while the Taiwanese government has welcomed it.