WASHINGTON, (AFP):- The United States and Britain on Friday urged China at the UN Security Council to reverse course over its new security law in Hong Kong, defying Beijing’s outrage over having the controversy discussed at the world body.
The UN meeting came as President Donald Trump prepared to take further action in an escalating row with China, which on Thursday proceeded with a controversial measure that many Hong Kongers see as ending much of their freedom.
China is one of five powers to wield a veto at the Security Council, making any formal session, let alone action, impossible on Hong Kong, a former British colony handed over in 1997.
But the United States and Britain said the city’s autonomy, guaranteed by Beijing in a UN-registered agreement, was of “legitimate international concern” and raised it in an informal, closed-door videoconference where China cannot block the agenda.
“The United States is resolute, and calls upon all UN members states to join us in demanding that the PRC immediately reverse course and honor its international legal commitments to this institution and to the Hong Kong people,” said US Ambassador Kelly Craft, referring to the People’s Republic of China.
British envoy Jonathan Allen voiced hope that the Chinese government “will pause and reflect on the serious and legitimate concerns this proposal has raised both within Hong Kong and around the world.”
The new law would ban subversion and other perceived offenses against Chinese rule in Hong Kong, which was rocked by months of massive pro-democracy protests last year.
– China denounces ‘manipulation’ –
China has denounced the move as interference, saying that the Hong Kong law did not fall under the mandate of the Council to maintain international security and peace.
China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, urged the United States and Britain “to immediately stop interfering in Hong Kong affairs.”
“Any attempt to use Hong Kong to interfere in China’s internal matters is doomed to fail,” warned a statement from China’s UN mission.
“There was no consensus, no formal discussion in the Security Council, and the US and the UK’s move came to nothing,” it said.
Dmitry Polyanskiy, the deputy UN ambassador of China’s ally Russia, earlier called the discussion a “mere provocation.”
“We never discuss internal matters of member-states,” he wrote on Twitter.
“It’s like opening a Pandora box and could make damage for the US itself,” he said, adding: “Our colleagues surely understand this.”
The European Union has joined in voicing concern over Hong Kong but indicated Friday it would not support sanctions against China.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in Brussels that only one of the bloc’s 27 members — identified by a diplomat as Sweden — even raised the idea of sanctions in a videoconference.
– Trump plans action –
Trump is set to speak later Friday on new US measures against China as tensions rise between the two countries on a host of fronts.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday certified that Hong Kong no longer enjoys autonomy that warrants its separate treatment under US law.
With elections approaching, Trump has also sought to cast China as the cause for the devastation of the COVID-19 virus, news of which was initially suppressed when the illness was first detected in Wuhan late last year.
Pompeo, in an interview late Thursday, hinted that Trump may take action against Chinese students in the United States.
Chinese graduate students who have links to the government in Beijing “shouldn’t be here in our schools spying,” Pompeo told Fox News.
He was responding to a report in The New York Times that the Trump administration was considering annulling the visas of thousands of Chinese graduate students seen as having links with the military.
The move would be certain to draw criticism not only from China but from universities, which rely increasingly on tuition from foreign students and have already been hit hard by the COVID-19 shutdown.
China has been the top source of foreign students to the United States for the past decade with nearly 370,000 Chinese at US universities, including at the undergraduate level, in the 2018/2019 academic year, according to a trade group.
Asian-American activists have long voiced concern that the targeting of Chinese students impacts their own community, with US citizens of Asian ancestry coming under unjustified suspicion.
Critics say Trump has been eager to fan anger at China over COVID-19 to deflect attention from his own handling of the pandemic that has killed more than 100,000 people in the United States, the highest death toll of any country.
Britain has separately promised to improve the rights of British National (Overseas) passport holders — a status offered to many Hong Kong residents — if China moves ahead on the security law.
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