The United States and four other Western countries expressed “grave concern” Monday about the “erosion of democratic elements” in Hong Kong as pro-Beijing candidates swept to victory in the city’s legislative elections after laws were changed to favor China’s Communist Party loyalists.
“Actions that undermine Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy are threatening our shared wish to see Hong Kong succeed,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and Britain said in a statement.
The diplomats said that since Britain handed over control of Hong Kong to China in 1997, “Candidates with diverse political views have contested elections in Hong Kong,” but that Sunday’s elections “reversed this trend.”
Pro-Beijing candidates won a landslide victory in the elections, defeating moderates and independents in Hong Kong’s first polls since Beijing decreed that only “patriots” loyal to China’s ruling Communist Party could run the city.
“These changes eliminated any meaningful political opposition,” the Western diplomats said. “Meanwhile, many of the city’s opposition politicians — most notably the majority of the “NSL 47″ — remain in prison pending trial, with others in exile overseas.”
The NSL 47 are activists accused of subverting Hong Kong’s National Security Law that was enacted by China last year.
In addition, they said that nongovernmental organizations, trade unions and human rights organizations “not supportive of the government’s agenda have been forced to disband or leave, while media freedoms are being curtailed at pace.”
The diplomats urged China “to act in accordance with its international obligations to respect protected rights and fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong.”
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said Monday at a news conference she was “satisfied” with the election, despite a 30.2% voter turnout, the lowest since China assumed power over Hong Kong 24 years ago.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said there were “multiple reasons” for the decline in voter turnout.
“It is not only the impact of the pandemic but also the disruption and sabotage of anti-China elements in Hong Kong and external forces,” Zhao said at a daily briefing.
Some overseas pro-democracy activists, including London-based Nathan Law, urged a boycott of the vote, saying the elections were undemocratic. Under the new election laws, incitement to boycott the voting or to cast invalid votes could be punished by up to three years in jail and a $26,500 fine.
Lam said she expects that work with the 90 legislators will be “very exciting” because they have different opinions on many social issues.
Lam was expected to travel to Beijing later Monday on a duty-reporting trip, which she said was meant to give a full account to Beijing of the latest political and economic situation in Hong Kong.
“I expect to cover a wide range of issues on this particular duty visit because through two very decisive acts of the central authorities, Hong Kong is now back on the right track of ‘one country, two systems,'” she said.
Some material in this report came from The Associated Press.