China brands the West ‘irresponsible’ for ‘interfering’ in Hong Kong

China’s ambassador to Britain has branded comments made by Western allies about the weekend’s Hong Kong elections as "irresponsible".

The foreign ministers of Britain, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand issued a joint statement on Monday voicing their “grave concern” at the “erosion of democratic elements” in Hong Kong’s electoral system.

But China has responded sharply, saying the west has distorted facts and maliciously discredited the election, which "gravely interfered in China’s internal affairs and violated the basic norms governing international relations."

"The Chinese side expresses firm opposition and strong condemnation," the spokesperson said in a statement on the embassy’s website.

The response came as western allies condemned the “patriots only” elections in Hong Kong after its leader, Carrie Lam, hailed the results as purging anti-Beijing elements from the legislature.

Similar sentiments were expressed by foreign ministers of the G7, who said restrictive laws put in place by Beijing ahead of the election “undermined Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy under the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ principle”.

And Lord Patten, Hong Kong’s final governor before the territory was handed over to Beijing, said the outcome was “another Chinese nail in the coffin of Hong Kong freedom and system of government”.

Only 30 per cent of voters went to the polls, which represented the lowest turnout since the former British colony came under Beijing’s control in 1997.

But this did not concern Ms Lam.

Legislative Council candidates sing China's national anthem at the 2021 Legislative Council General Election

Credit: Bertha Wang/AFP

“Hong Kong is now back on the right track of One Country, Two Systems," she said referring to the political system granting limited autonomy which was put in place after the territory reverted to Chinese rule.

"We cannot copy and paste the so-called democratic system or rules of the Western countries."

The poll was held under an overhaul of the territory’s political system put in place after pro-democracy activists won a landslide victory in the 2019 local elections when 71 per cent of voters went to the polls.

Changes included a reduction in the number of directly elected seats being slashed from half to only 22 per cent.  

Candidates were vetted before being included on the ballot paper, with anti-Chinese activists being screened out.

Many opposition politicians were jailed following violent protests and others went into exile and 10 people were arrested in the run-up to the elections for breaking a new law outlawing organising a boycott of the poll.

Nevertheless, Hong Kong residents voted with their feet, choosing to use free public transport to go to shopping malls rather than polling stations.

Zhao Lijian, China’s foreign ministry spokesman, blamed the low turnout on the pandemic and anti-China elements bent on destroying Hong Kong.

For Lord Patten, the outcome of the election was “typical behaviour of this nasty and brutish regime”.

He told The Telegraph: “We have to ask what they thought was the point of an election when they are locking up pro-democracy activists including anybody who doesn’t accept the instructions of the Chinese Communist Party are the order of the day.

“This is typical behaviour of this nasty and brutish regime.

“One of the reasons why they did this is because pro-democracy activists did extremely well in the local elections and Beijing was scared stiff.”

Hong Kong democracy activists convicted

Western governments have been alarmed by the tightening of Beijing’s grip on Hong Kong which, under One Country, Two Systems put in place in 1997, was supposed to enjoy considerable autonomy including the right of voters to elect their own leaders.

In their statement, the western foreign ministers condemned the new security laws.

“Actions that undermine Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy are threatening our shared wish to see Hong Kong succeed,” they said.

“Since handover, candidates with diverse political views have contested elections in Hong Kong. Yesterday’s election has reversed this trend.”

They added: “We also remain gravely concerned at the wider chilling effect of the National Security Law and the growing restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, which are being felt across civil society.”

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