Germany’s Angela Merkel, France’s foreign minister call for dialogue to defuse Hong Kong tensions after China rejects EU statement on protests

Stuart Lau

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Wednesday jumped into the fray of Hong Kong’s anti-government protests, calling for an end to violence and a start to political dialogue.

French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs Jean-Yves Le Drian, meanwhile, highlighted the respect for fundamental liberties under “one country, two systems”, while the German leader said Hongkongers’ freedom of speech must be preserved.

Their comments followed Beijing’s strong opposition to a “misleading” European Union statement calling on all sides to exercise restraint even as reports and footage showed armed police trucks being stationed at a sports centre in a mainland Chinese city bordering Hong Kong.

The European leaders’ remarks added to a growing international refrain. On Wednesday, the US State Department and Congressional leaders expressed support for the protesters, and the House Foreign Affairs Committee vowed consequences if the mainland responded with force in Hong Kong.

Merkel explicitly referred to the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, under which the former British colony – handed over to China in 1997 – is to enjoy fundamental rights such as freedom of speech for at least 50 years.

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The German chancellor said that Hongkongers’ rights, including freedom of opinion, “have a long tradition” in the city, and that all future dialogue must adhere to the freedoms under the one country, two systems principle.

Merkel’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, called on Germans to postpone travelling to Hong Kong for the time being.

Maas was reportedly referring to reports – tweeted also by US President Donald Trump on Tuesday – that the Chinese military have stepped up deployment in Shenzhen, just across the mainland border from Hong Kong.

On Monday, the Chinese Communist Party publications People’s Daily and Global Times posted videos of the convoy in Shenzhen, saying the police were there to prepare for large-scale drills.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has cited Hong Kong’s Basic Law in calling for a peaceful resolution to the protests. Photo: EPA-EFE

Maria Adebahr, spokeswoman for the German foreign ministry, added that the German government was “constantly in discussion” with China concerning Hong Kong. The question of human rights was being raised “continuously”, she said.

In France, Le Drian also spoke out on the issue, saying: “The demonstrations in Hong Kong are continuing in an increasingly tense climate. France and its partners, especially its European partners, are following this situation very closely.

“I urge all the parties, and especially the authorities in Hong Kong, to re-establish their dialogue in order to achieve a peaceful outcome to this crisis and bring an end to the escalating violence.

“Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the one country, two systems principle guarantee the rule of law, the respect for human rights and fundamental liberties, and the autonomy of the judicial system, which are vital to Hong Kong’s people and its economic prosperity. France is deeply committed to full compliance with all of these principles,” he said.

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The German and French statements follow Beijing’s strong opposition to a statement by the EU calling on all sides to exercise restraint and reject all kinds of violence.

A spokesman of the Chinese mission to the EU said on Wednesday that China was firmly opposed to the EU’s “absolutely misleading and incorrect” statement on Hong Kong. The spokesman criticised the EU statement for lumping together the “rigorously lawful” exercise of duties by Hong Kong police with the “extreme and violent” offences by the radicals.

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