The Chinese Communist Party “flagrantly violated” its commitments to Hong Kong when it disqualified four opposition lawmakers from the city’s legislature, US National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Wednesday.
“‘One country, two systems’ is now merely a fig leaf covering for the CCP’s expanding one party dictatorship in Hong Kong,” O’Brien said in a statement.
The US condemnation came after China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee, the country’s top legislative body, empowered the local government in Hong Kong to unseat politicians without having to go through the city’s courts.
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Four opposition lawmakers were removed, and the remaining 15 opposition lawmakers said they would all resign in protest.
O’Brien added that the US government would use its powers under the law to continue to “identify and sanction those responsible for extinguishing Hong Kong’s freedom”.
The Trump administration imposed economic sanctions on a number of Chinese officials including Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, in August. On Monday, Washington increased the list of targeted individuals to include four additional officials in the central and Hong Kong governments.
Those sanctions have come as a united US Congress has called for a stronger American response to Beijing’s perceived encroachment of civil liberties in Hong Kong, including calls for the US to provide asylum to those seeking to flee the city.
Earlier on Wednesday, lawmakers belonging to the influential Congressional-Executive Commission on China condemned the disqualification of the four legislators and vowed “consequences for Beijing’s actions”.
“It is critical that the United States and all allies of freedom come together to recognise and condemn the undeniable and far-reaching ramifications of this authoritarian power grab, which has wiped out what little remained of Hong Kong’s democratic political system and violates China’s treaty obligations,” senators Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, and Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, said in a statement.
The removal of the Hong Kong lawmakers was met with similar reproach in Canada, where Foreign Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne called Beijing’s approval of the resolution that led to their disqualification a “further assault” on Hong Kong’s autonomy.
“We are deeply disappointed that China has chosen to break its international obligations,” Champagne said in a statement to Bloomberg. “Canada will continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong.”
Washington and its allies’ sounding of the alarm regarding Hong Kong’s democratic freedoms come as the US administration faces its own accusations of undermining electoral processes, following Trump’s refusal to accept his apparent defeat in last week’s presidential race.
China was moving to “further crackdown on democracy in Hong Kong this week as Trump creates false narratives that attack democracy here at home,” Chris Van Hollen, the Democratic senator from Maryland, tweeted.
Asked on Tuesday about perceptions of hypocrisy in the US State Department’s criticism of electoral malpractice overseas in light of the White House’s current strategy, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called such questioning “ridiculous” and said his administration had the obligation to ensure “that any vote that wasn’t lawful ought not be counted”.
While Washington has been consumed with continuing fallout from the bitterly fought presidential election, critics of the administration have warned that adversaries, including China, could exploit the commotion to take actions furthering their geopolitical objectives.
Those concerns grew on Monday with the abrupt firing of Defence Secretary Mark Esper and an ensuing shuffle of other senior Pentagon positions.
The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) “might see an opportunity – especially while the US is occupied with its recent elections – to test the world’s resolve on defending Hong Kong,” the Washington-based Hong Kong Democracy Council announced on Wednesday.
“We urge the US to take strong actions, building on the additional sanctions of Chinese and Hong Kong officials announced this week and not to let [the] CCP off the hook,” the group said.
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