New Zealand’s cancellation of its meeting with Hong Kong democracy leaders is a “misguided concession,” New York based NGO Human Rights Watch has said.

Last week, New Zealand’s Deputy Prime Minister Bill English cancelled a meeting with former colonial chief secretary Anson Chan and Democratic Party founder Martin Lee with less than a day’s notice. He later issued a statement saying that he cancelled the meeting after being advised that it was “diplomatically sensitive.”

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Martin Lee and Anson Chan.

In a commentary published on Monday, the NGO’s China Director Sophie Richardson said that principles such as the rule of law, a free press, rights to political participation and the right to peacefully criticise authorities are under assault in China, using the authorities’ response to peaceful protests in Hong Kong as an example.

“…it’s a dangerously short-sighted game for New Zealand to willingly undermine its reputation as a defender of human rights and democracy in the faint hope doing so will win it some points in Beijing,” she wrote.

Opposition legislator David Shearer said Chinese officials approached him expressing “concern” about his meeting with Chan and Lee before it happened. Members of the Green Party also met with the two Hong Kong democracy leaders, though none of the officials from the governing party did.

English has denied that there was discussion or contact with Chinese officials in the matter.

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Bill English. Photo: Facebook/Bill English.

The meeting was part of Chan and Lee’s 13-day trip to Australia and New Zealand to meet with officials, media, and think-tanks to highlight concerns of increasing interference from the Central government and the erosion of rights and freedoms guaranteed under One Country Two Systems, according to Chan’s think tank Hong Kong 2020.

The two figures received a different reception in Australia. Both Chan and Lee met with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop and testified in front of a parliamentary committee about protecting Hong Kong’s autonomy. Following her trip, Chan told public radio station RTHK: “We were told that the Chinese Embassy had been busy behind the scenes telling people not to meet with us, but the Australians clearly did not pay it any heed.” She added that there may be a growing appreciation in Australia of “insidious infiltration of the Chinese party line.”

Catholic human rights activist and UK Conservative Party candidate Benedict Rogers also slammed English’s decision as “the epitome of cowardice” in a commentary criticising the “shameful kowtowing” in international diplomacy towards China.

catherine lai

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.