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Top US envoy to Hong Kong slams China’s actions in farewell speech

#Top #envoy #Hong #Kong #slams #Chinas #actions #farewell #speech

Washington’s top diplomat in Hong Kong said China should “not be afraid of dissent” as he rebuked Beijing’s crackdown on freedoms in the business center in a farewell speech on Monday.

Hanscom Smith’s three-year tenure as Consul General has faced growing challenges as Beijing and Washington took opposing sides in the city’s huge, sometimes violent, pro-democracy protests in 2019.

China imposed a sweeping national security law on the city in the wake of the protests, and Washington imposed sanctions on top Hong Kong officials. US officials privately confirmed that city officials have since declined to meet with Smith.

The consul-general complained that routine diplomatic activities were labeled “interference” and that diplomats were threatened under the security law.

“Strong nations are not afraid of dissenting opinions. An exchange of views is not an agreement. Participation in an event is not interference. A handshake is not a ‘black hand,'” Smith said in his farewell address to the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong.

He reiterated that Washington does not support Hong Kong’s independence and “we are simply asking Beijing to … give the city the autonomy Beijing has promised.”

Since its handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong has been governed under the “one country, two systems” principle agreed by Britain and China and codified in the city’s mini-constitution.

In it, China pledged to allow Hong Kong to retain its capitalist system, an independent judiciary, a high degree of autonomy and certain freedoms rarely enjoyed on the mainland for 50 years.

But the security law and the political crackdown that followed fundamentally changed Hong Kong’s political landscape, effectively stifling dissent.

“No other major global business center has seen such a significant erosion of the political environment in such a short period of time,” Smith said.

Beijing said the law was necessary to ensure national security and accused “enemy external forces” — particularly the United States — and “anti-Chinese elements in Hong Kong” of conspiring to foment secessionist protests in the city.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, during a rare visit to Hong Kong to mark the 25th anniversary of the July 1 handover, said the city was “reborn from fire” and the law had “turned chaos into stability”.

Smith denied such claims.

The diplomat said millions of Hong Kongers protested not for independence in 2019 but “for the freedoms and autonomy that were promised to them”.

“Blaming foreign forces for unrest and violence, a favorite expression of authoritarian governments, is merely an attempt by the PRC leadership to evade responsibility and pin its shortcomings on a foreign scapegoat,” Smith said, using the acronym for the People’s Republic of China.

“Efforts to portray Hong Kong as a ‘pawn’ in a great power struggle is another attempt to sidestep the truth: America’s Hong Kong policy has been unwavering for decades.”

Smith also warned that Beijing cannot expect Hong Kong to maintain its status as an international financial and business center as it continues to degrade the city’s political institutions.

“By restricting political and social freedoms, the PRC will inevitably jeopardize the attributes that have enabled Hong Kong to emerge as a global services hub,” he said.

“Beijing cannot have both.”

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