© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A fan fights with police at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Court building during the hearing of 47 pro-democracy activists charged with conspiracy to subvert under the National Security Act, in Hong Kong, China, on February 6-2
HONG KONG (Reuters) – Hong Kong on Saturday “strongly rejected” the findings of a new U.S. government report that said U.S. interests had been threatened and that Beijing continued to “undermine” the rule of law and freedom in the territory under national security pressure. .
The 2023 US Hong Kong Policy Report, released by the US State Department, said the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities “continued to use ‘national security’ as a broad and vague basis for undermining the rule of law and protected rights and freedoms”.
In June 2020, China imposed a national security law on Hong Kong without any local legislative or consultative process, outlawing crimes such as subversion with possible life imprisonment.
Authorities say the law has restored order after protracted pro-democracy protests in 2019, which called for full democracy, among other demands.
The city’s tightened security regime mirrors mainland China, where Chinese leader Xi Jinping has carried out a crackdown on dissent over the past decade, jailing critics and rights defenders.
“Hong Kong authorities continued to arrest and prosecute people for peaceful political expression critical of local and central authorities, including posting and forwarding posts on social media,” the US report said.
However, a Hong Kong government spokesman said in a statement that it “strongly disapproves of and firmly rejects baseless remarks that distort the facts” in the report.
“The US attempt to undermine Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity will only expose its own weakness and fallacious arguments and be doomed to failure.”
The spokesperson added that protecting national security is of “cardinal importance” and that all people are equal before the law regardless of political affiliation or background.
More than 230 people have been arrested for alleged acts that threaten national security since 2020, including 47 prominent Democrats who now face charges of conspiracy to subvert in a landmark trial that will last several months.
The US report also sees the number of US citizens in Hong Kong falling from 85,000 in 2021 to around 70,000 due to a range of factors, including strict COVID-related restrictions and national security.
China has “increasingly used police and security powers in Hong Kong, exposing US citizens who publicly criticize the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to an increased risk of arrest, detention, deportation or prosecution in Hong Kong,” the report said, adding these risks it is highlighted in the government’s travel instructions for Hong Kong.
Forty of the 100 US senators co-sponsored a resolution earlier this month calling on the US government to respond strongly to any Chinese efforts to suppress dissent in Hong Kong, including the use of sanctions and other tools.