Australia has joined all Five Eyes nations except New Zealand in labelling mass arrests in Hong Kong an attempt to “eliminate dissent” in a move that could further heighten tensions with Beijing.
More than 50 pro-democracy politicians and activists, including prominent activist Joshua Wong, were arrested on Wednesday in the largest crackdown under Hong Kong’s controversial National Security Law.
The bill was introduced in June to criminalise acts of secession and “subversion” in a move critics said effectively criminalised protest and freedom of speech.
Hong Kong’s “one country, two systems” structure has come under increasing threat since 2019 when massive pro-democracy protests were met with a crackdown by authorities.
Australia joined Canada, the UK and US – all the Five Eyes nations bar New Zealand – on Sunday in underscoring their “serious concern” at Wednesday’s developments.
“The National Security Law is a clear breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and undermines the ‘one country, two systems’ framework,” the statement read.
“It has curtailed the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong. It is clear that the National Security Law is being used to eliminate dissent and opposing political views.
“We call on the Hong Kong and Chinese central authorities to respect the legally guaranteed rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong without fear of arrest and detention.”
Wellington has previously joined its Five Eyes partners in airing concerns over freedoms in Hong Kong.
NCA NewsWire has reached out to New Zealand’s foreign ministry for comment over the country’s absence from the statement.
The statement also called for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council election to be fair and include candidates from a range of political views.
The vote was originally scheduled for September 2020 but was postponed for a year due to a resurgence in COVID-19 cases.
The postponement was backed by Beijing.
NCA NewsWire has contacted the Chinese embassy for comment.
The Five Eyes group has locked in behind Canberra during its ongoing trade stoush with Beijing and has considered sanctioning China for what Australia says is a breach of World Trade Organisation rules.
Relations between Canberra and Beijing have deteriorated since Australia led calls for an independent inquiry into the origins of COVID-19 in April.
Beijing has since slapped trade sanctions on various Australian products, including wine, barley and beef.
A Chinese foreign ministry official also posted a provocative tweet depicting an Australian soldier holding a knife to an Afghan child’s neck, a reference to the Brereton Report into alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
Beijing refused demands from the Australian government to delete the post and apologise.