WASHINGTON (REUTERS, XINHUA) - The Five Eyes intelligence sharing group said that China's imposition of new rules to disqualify elected legislators in Hong Kong appeared to be part of a campaign to silence critics and called on Beijing to reverse course.
"We urge the Chinese central authorities to re-consider their actions against Hong Kong's elected legislature and immediately reinstate the Legislative Council members," foreign ministers from Australia, Britain, Canada, New Zealand and the United States said in a joint statement on Wednesday (Nov 18).
It brought an angry response from Beijing.
If the Five Eyes alliance dared harm China's sovereignty, security or development interests, they should be careful not to "get their eyes poked out", foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily news conference in Beijing on Thursday.
China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Hong Kong said earlier any attempt by foreign states to threaten or pressure Beijing to make concessions was "doomed to fail".
Hong Kong expelled four opposition members from its legislature last week after Beijing gave city authorities new powers to curb dissent. The move triggered mass resignations by Hong Kong's pro-democracy opposition lawmakers.
It also raised further alarm in the West about the level of Hong Kong's autonomy, promised under a "one country, two systems" formula when Britain ended its colonial rule and handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997.
"China's action is a clear breach of its international obligations under the legally binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration," the five countries said.
Britain now considers China has broken the Joint Declaration three times, including with national security legislation for Hong Kong introduced this year.
Washington has already imposed sanctions on Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam and other Chinese officials over the crackdown, and has warned of further steps.
Police in Hong Kong said they had arrested three former lawmakers on Wednesday morning over May and June incidents in which foul-smelling liquid was thrown in the city's legislature, an act police said was intended to cause harm.
China denies curbing rights and freedoms in the global financial hub but authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have moved swiftly to stifle dissent after anti-government protests flared in June last year and plunged the city into crisis.
China had pushed back at the criticism last week, telling a "handful of foreign politicians to grasp the trend of the times, keep their hands off China's internal affairs, stop meddling with Hong Kong affairs in any form and avoid going farther down the wrong path".
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Nov 12 that the legal basis for the central government's administration of Hong Kong is the Constitution of China and the Hong Kong Basic Law. A small number of foreign politicians had cited the Sino-British Joint Declaration but none of the articles in the declaration give foreign countries the right to interfere in Hong Kong's affairs, the ministry said.
The ministry spokesman said the loyalty of politicians to their country is not unique to China or Hong Kong, but a recognised international norm common to all nations.
No country would allow people who split the nation, subvert the regime and collude with external forces to hold public office, said the spokesman. Also, no country will allow parliamentarians to betray their vows and violate the law without bearing legal consequences, the spokesman added.