New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the UK, and the US have issued a joint statement expressing “grave concern” over the recent Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election.
Candidates loyal to China’s Communist Party won a landslide victory in the elections on Monday after pro-democracy activists were imprisoned and authorities received the power to exclude those deemed inappropriate for office.
Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta, alongside New Zealand’s Five Eyes partners, said since Hong Kong’s handover, candidates with diverse political views had contested in the region’s elections.
‘Yesterday's election has reversed this trend,” the statement said.
“We, the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, and the United Kingdom, and the United States Secretary of State, noting the outcome of the Legislative Council elections in Hong Kong, express our grave concern over the erosion of democratic elements of the Special Administrative Region's electoral system.”
1News has sought comment from the Chinese Embassy in Wellington.
Under new laws in Hong Kong, the number of directly elected lawmakers was reduced from 35 to 20, even as the legislature was expanded from 70 to 90 seats.
Most of the lawmakers were appointed by largely pro-Beijing bodies, ensuring that they make up the majority of the legislature.
All candidates were also vetted by a largely pro-Beijing committee before they could be nominated.
In the joint statement, Mahuta said the overhaul to Hong Kong’s electoral system “eliminated any meaningful political opposition”.
The statement also expressed “grave concerns” at the “chilling effect” of the National Security Law and “growing restrictions on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, which are being felt across civil society”.
“NGOs, trade unions and human rights organisations not supportive of the government's agenda have been forced to disband or leave, while media freedoms are being curtailed at pace.
“Protecting space for peaceful alternative views is the most effective way to ensure the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.”
It urged China to respect protected rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam said she was “satisfied” with the election despite a 30.2 per cent voter turnout — the lowest since the British handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997.
Pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong encouraged people to protest the election by not voting or by spoiling their ballots.
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 200,000 Hong Kong dollar (NZ$38,000) fine.
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.
Additional reporting by Associated Press.