The European parliament is considering taking legal action against China in the United Nations’ highest court – the International Court of Justice. This is in response to China’s decision to impose a national security law in Hong Kong and its position that the Sino-British Joint Declaration is an invalid ‘historic document’.
A draft resolution on the law was recently passed by the National People’s Congress in Beijing on 28 May, with 2,878 votes in favour and only one in opposition. The national security law, customised for Hong Kong, aims to penalise secession, subversion, foreign interference and terrorism.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam attempted to reassure her citizenry with a letter to the Hong Kong Free Press, emphasising that the bill would “only target an extremely small minority of illegal and criminal acts and activities, while the life and property, basic rights and freedoms of the overwhelming majority of citizens will be protected”.
Despite this, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to voice their apprehension about, and animosity towards, the encroachment and erosion of the city’s ‘One country, two systems’ principle, its de facto constitution, and its celebrated freedoms of speech, assembly and press.
The European parliament has put forward a draft resolution, seen by Politico, that the EU and its member states file a case before the International Court of Justice, alleging that China’s decision to impose a national security law in Hong Kong violates the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as well as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Just over two weeks ago, the EU ruled out taking further action against China. Their rationale was that they wanted to start a dialogue with Beijing:
“We want to stress our relationship with China is based on mutual respect and trust, but this decision [by the NPC] calls this into question”, said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell. “We will continue trying to put pressure on the China authorities in order to make them aware that this issue will affect the way we deal with some of the issues of mutual interests.”
But as the passage of events shows, Europe has been coerced into putting more pressure on Beijing after its obstinate avowal of moving forward with their legislation. With support from the leading parties in the European parliament, the motion implores the EU to follow the UK into drafting a ‘lifeboat’ policy for the inevitable and imminent migrancy. Britain has pledged to extend visa rights to all British national (overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong, which would offer nearly three million Hongkongers a route to British citizenship should the national security law be enacted.
As reported in the South China Morning Post, the EU draft resolution “also urges UN human rights officials to appoint a special envoy in charge of the city; the EU to enact ‘Magnitsky-style’ sanctions to punish ‘leaders who conduct this crackdown on Hong Kong and its people’; and the Chinese central government to ‘desist from blackmailing European businesses’ into supporting the national security law.”
The EU draft resolution calls on the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government to “drop all charges against peaceful protesters and to abandon all repressive measures against Hong Kong citizens exercising their freedom of expression.”
Many fear that even before the official promulgation and enactment of the national security law, basic freedoms of Hong Kong citizens are being slowly corroded, in addition to accusations of police brutality and violations of human rights.
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Over the past week in the administrative region, a letter from Hong Kong’s education secretary, Kevin Yeung, has been sent to all school principals, characterising activities such as “chanting slogans, forming human chains, and posting slogans or singing songs which contain political messages at schools for expressing political stance” as “dangerous” and “unlawful”. He urged that students should be stopped and disciplined should they commit any of these acts. Just on Thursday, Yeung faulted pupils for singing ‘Glory to Hong Kong’, a protest anthem now deemed “political propaganda”.
On top of the national security law, a national anthem law (relating to the Chinese national anthem) has been passed and put into effect recently in Hong Kong. The legislation would prosecute anyone who “maliciously [changes] the lyrics, [performs] the anthem in a derogatory or distorted way, or [insults] the anthem in other ways.” In his letter, Yeung said principals are allowed to notify the police “as a last resort” if students show disrespect to the anthem. Offenders could face a HK$50,000 fine (just over £5k) or three years in prison.
Subsequently, a student-made statue depicting Hong Kong protesters at the Polytechnic University of Hong Kong was removed by campus security and destroyed when security tried to forcefully move it into a storage room. The student union railed at the university for the lack of notice given to students over the alleged “safety concerns” over the statue and its ruination.
With the freedom of expression and autonomy of Hong Kong brought into question, over 100 lawmakers globally – including Belgium’s former prime minister Guy Verhofstadt – joined the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China, co-founded by US Senator Marco Rubio and former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, as a united front against the Chinese central government over its controversial, unprecedented legal action in Hong Kong.
As the chair of the EU parliament’s delegation for relations with China, Reinhard Bütikofer revealed the most updated draft had been agreed on Friday morning with the European People’s Party, Socialist & Democrats, Renew Europe and the European Conservatives and Reformists. Lawmakers are scheduled to debate the European parliament’s draft resolution today, and vote on it tomorrow.