A group of bipartisan US lawmakers overseeing congressional China policy have lambasted Beijing's recently announced plans to overhaul Hong Kong's election system and urged President Joe Biden to help the city defend its "autonomy and basic freedoms".
The comments, which come as Beijing prepares to implement new rules in Hong Kong that critics warn will block opposition politicians from holding elected office, were the latest sign of the bipartisan condemnation in Congress over the Chinese government's crackdown on dissent in the city.
A group of eight senators and representatives including a mix of Democrats and Republicans -- Senator Mitt Romney of Utah, Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, and Senator Ed Markey and Representative James McGovern, both of Massachusetts -- said in a joint statement that Beijing's latest move under the draconian National Security Law would tighten basic freedoms.
"We are deeply concerned by the changes Beijing announced to Hong Kong's electoral system. These revisions will only continue to advance Beijing's ever tightening grip on Hong Kongers' autonomy, basic freedoms, and fundamental human rights," they said.
"With these planned actions, the Chinese Communist Party is doubling down on its attempts to impose an authoritarian system on Hong Kong. Beijing is once again violating its binding international commitments under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration and its obligations under Hong Kong's Basic Law," the lawmakers added.
According to South China Morning Post, the changes to the region's election system were formally proposed last week during the annual meeting of China's rubber-stamp parliament, the National People's Congress. They are expected to be formally voted on during a session on March 11.
The proposed changes would grant additional power to Beijing and its loyalists in Hong Kong when choosing the city's leader and members of the Legislative Council, the city's assembly. Only those deemed to be "patriots" will be allowed to govern the city. The changes also come amid widening enforcement of the draconian national security law that Beijing imposed on the city last summer.
The lawmakers said that the efforts by the CCP to stamp out democratic opposition in Hong Kong only "underscores its own insecurities" adding that the lawmakers said that the US Congress will continue to speak with one voice in support of freedom, democracy, and justice for the people of Hong Kong.
"In the past two years, we passed legislation giving the executive branch significant new tools to support the people of Hong Kong as they defend their autonomy and basic freedoms. We urge the Biden Administration to use those tools, and to work with allies and partners to develop other mechanisms to support the people of Hong Kong," the lawmakers said.
Earlier, the European Union warned Beijing to "carefully consider the political and economic implications" of any decision to reform the electoral system of Hong Kong saying that the bloc is "ready to take additional steps" in response to any further serious deterioration of political freedoms and human rights in the city.
Less than a year after imposing the National Security Law, China on Thursday launched a legislative process for drastic electoral system reform in Hong Kong, which could benefit the pro-establishment camp and further smother the political opposition in the city.
China has planned a fundamental overhaul of the city's normally contentious politics, the New York Times reported.
Lau Siu-kai, a senior adviser to the Chinese leadership on Hong Kong policy, has said the new approach is likely to call for the creation of a government agency to vet every candidate running not only for chief executive but for the legislature and other levels of office, including neighbourhood representatives.
NYT also reported that the strategy will further concentrate power in the hands of the Communist Party in Hong Kong and decimate the political hopes of the territory's already beleaguered opposition for years to come.
The new reforms come months after China passed the nationals security law to quash the resistance to its rule in Hong Kong.
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