Hong Kong’s government has “firmly rejected” a report by a US Congressional commission, which said the city now lives under the mainland’s control after Beijing interfered with the judicial system and weakened civil society.
The US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) submitted its annual report to Congress on Tuesday. Carolyn Bartholomew, its chairperson, said during a hearing that the report was “once again approved unanimously, reflecting the strong bipartisan consensus on US-China policy.”
The 753-page report made 30 non-binding recommendations to Congress covering areas such as investment, trade, military, and educational exchanges. A 57-page section was devoted to Hong Kong with a focus on the city’s judicial independence and civil society under the sweeping national security law.
The report said Beijing had installed loyal judges and leaders in key positions, leading to “the strictest interpretation” of the security law and its enforcement beyond the city’s jurisdiction. This had caused more Hongkongers to leave, while those who stayed must choose between self-censorship or political and legal risks, the report said.
“As these expats and Hongkongers leave… mainland human capital and investment increasingly dominate Hong Kong’s business environment, cementing Hong Kong’s status as a Chinese, rather than international, city,” the report read.
The Hong Kong government on Wednesday said it “strongly disapproves of” the report and “firmly rejected the untruthful remarks, slanders and smears” by the US advisory panel.
“The HKSAR Government strongly disapproves of and firmly rejects the USCC’s manoeuvre with politics prevailing over the rule of law and its interference in the affairs of the HKSAR through the so-called ‘report’,” a spokesperson for the government said in a statement.
“The HKSAR Government strongly urges again those individual United States politicians to discern facts from fallacies.”
The spokesperson added that US politicians should stop interfering in the affairs of Hong Kong, “which are purely China’s internal affairs.”
Tuesday’s report said Hong Kong was increasingly reliant on mainland China for its labour force and economy amid the departure of international firms and human capital. “Beijing’s efforts to rehabilitate Hong Kong’s international image are cosmetic, designed purely to attract foreign business,” it argued.
The government spokesperson said Hong Kong enjoyed the advantage of “unparalleled connectivity with the mainland and the rest of the world” under the One Country, Two Systems principle.
The One Country, Two Systems framework promised that the city would enjoy a high degree of autonomy and retain its fundamental rights and freedoms for 50 years after the 1997 handover.
“Hong Kong will continue to play its unique role as a ‘super-connector’ and ‘super value-adder’,” the spokesperson said, using the phrase first used by Chief Executive John Lee last week during a trip to Shanghai to promote Hong Kong’s role in bridging the Greater Bay Area and the international community.
The report said Congress should consider reports about the government’s restriction of those who had left the city from accessing their Mandatory Provident Fund (MPF) pensions. It suggested Congress consider sanctions on those involved in restricting people’s freedom to emigrate.
Amid a mass emigration wave, with many Hongkongers choosing the UK as their destination, the MPF authorities said in 2021 after Hong Kong stopped recognising the British National (Overseas) passport that scheme members “cannot rely on the BN(O) passport or its associated visa as evidence in support of an application for early withdrawal of MPF.”
The report also recommended Congress consider sanctions on judges – including foreign nationals – who serve on the city’s apex Court of Final Appeal, citing “undue influence” from Beijing over the judicial system that violates the right to a fair and independent trial.
The recommendation came after a bipartisan bill introduced by three US lawmakers that seeks to sanction 49 Hong Kong judges, prosecutors, and government officials “accountable for human rights violations.” The bill had drawn strong criticism from the Hong Kong government and a joint statement from all lawmakers in condemnation.
Beijing inserted national security legislation directly into Hong Kong’s mini-constitution in June 2020 following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest. It criminalised subversion, secession, collusion with foreign forces and terrorist acts – broadly defined to include disruption to transport and other infrastructure. The move gave police sweeping new powers, led to hundreds of convictions amid new legal precedents, whilst dozens of civil society groups disappeared. The authorities say it restored stability and peace to the city, rejecting criticism from trade partners, the UN and NGOs, despite an overall rise in crime.
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