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Canada condemns removal of pro-democracy Hong Kong legislators

Canada’s top diplomat says China is flouting its international obligations with its latest move to quash dissent in Hong Kong. 

Earlier this week, China’s central government granted Hong Kong’s government special authority to remove members of its Legislative Council who are deemed insufficiently loyal to Beijing because of their support for Hong Kong independence or their refusal to recognize China’s sovereignty over the region.

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government, led by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, promptly used the new powers to disqualify four pro-democracy legislators who had previously called for foreign governments to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.

In response to the removal of their colleagues, Hong Kong’s 15 remaining pro-democracy lawmakers said they would resign in protest, effectively giving pro-Beijing forces free reign in the city’s legislature.

Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne said the removal of the four democratically elected legislators further erodes the autonomy promised to the former British colony when it was handed back to Beijing in 1997.

“This decision further narrows Hong Kong’s autonomy and the space for freedom of expression and public participation in governance in Hong Kong,” Champagne said in a written statement on Wednesday.

“This action clearly demonstrates a concerning disregard for Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the high degree of autonomy promised for Hong Kong under the ‘one country, two systems’ framework.”

hong kong lawmakers disqualified
Four Hong Kong lawmakers, from left, Dennis Kwok, Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung, confirmed they were disqualified from serving in the city’s Legislative Council at a news conference Wednesday. (Vincent Yu/The Associated Press)

Under the Sino-British declaration — signed in 1984 — China promised to allow Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy for 50 years in exchange for reassuming control of the territory in 1997. But Beijing has in recent months moved to clamp down on opposition voices in Hong Kong with the imposition of a national security law, after months of anti-government protests last year rocked the city.

‘Further assault’ on freedoms

Champagne called China’s move a “further assault” on Hong Kong’s freedoms.

“We are deeply disappointed that China has chosen to break its international obligations,” said Champagne.

“Canada will continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong.”

The issue of Hong Kong’s autonomy has proven to be a thorn in an already chilled relationship between Canada and China. Relations between the two countries have worsened since Canada arrested Huawei’s Chief Financial Officer Meng Wanzhou in December 2017 on a U.S. extradition warrant. China arrested two Canadians, Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, shortly after Meng’s arrest.

The two Michaels have now spent over 700 days in prison while Meng fights her extradition in a B.C. court and lives under house arrest in Vancouver.

Canada suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong in July in response to the passage of the new national security law — which gave Beijing sweeping powers to crack down on dissent amid anti-government protests and other activities it considers the work of hostile foreign powers. 

The Canadian government also amended its export controls to treat sensitive goods, including military equipment, being exported to Hong Kong as if they were being sent to mainland China. Previously, Hong Kong was given preferential status.

Canada has also quietly started approving asylum claims for families seeking to flee persecution in Hong Kong, something the Chinese ambassador to Canada warned against last month.

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