EU chief Josep Borrell voices concern over “erosion of rights” in Hong Kong

Martin Banks

Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper), The EU’s outgoing foreign affairs chief says there has been a “continuous erosion of the rights and freedoms” of people in Hong Kong.

Josep Borrell was reacting to the release of the EU’s 2023 annual report on Hong Kong. The former Spanish MEP said the report “illustrates in great detail the continuous erosion of the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and the dismantling of the ‘one country two systems’ principle.”

He added, “The political opposition in Hong Kong has been effectively excluded from elections. “The National Security Law continues to be used to stifle dissent, including abroad. These developments undermine trust in the rule of law in Hong Kong and affect Hong Kong’s standing as an international business hub,” said Borrell, who is the EU’s High Representative/Vice-President.

The 26th annual report on political and economic developments in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region covers 2023.

It says the electoral overhaul of the District Councils, adopted on 6 July, “drastically reduced” the number of directly elected members to less than one-fifth. Under the amended law, candidates need to pass through an extensive vetting process. “Ultimately, no pro-democracy candidate qualified. Opposition parties were unable to organise fundraising events.” The District Council election took place on 10 December and saw a historically low turnout rate.

For the first time, the National Security Law was applied extra-territorially. The report says, “Hong Kong authorities issued a wanted list targeting Hong Kong activists residing overseas and placed bounties on 13 self-exiled activists over alleged collusion with foreign countries or external elements.”

It goes on, “Trials brought against pro-democracy activists, advocates and politicians under the National Security Law and related legislation continued.

“Hearings in the cases of the 47 pro-democracy activists who had participated in a primary election in 2021 started in February and closed in early Decembe“The Stand News trial with charges under the colonial era sedition law against two former chief editors of the disbanded independent media outlet was interrupted in November and postponed to spring 2024. “The national security trial against media entrepreneur and pro-democracy advocate Jimmy Lai started on 18 December.”

The report states, “The hearing schedule for the trial against the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, including activist Chow Hang-tung, had not been announced by the end of 2023.” In contrast, 2023 saw “hopeful signs” of progress on the rights of LGBTI+ people in Hong Kong, mainly carried forward by the judiciary.

The annual report highlights the substantial commercial links between the European Union and Hong Kong. With 1,550 companies, the EU remained the largest foreign business community. The EU was Hong Kong’s third largest trading partner.

Since Hong Kong’s handover to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, the EU and its Member States have closely followed political and economic developments in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle. The European Commission and the High Representative issue an annual report on political and economic developments in Hong Kong.

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Brussels Morning is a daily online newspaper based in Belgium. BM publishes unique and independent coverage on international and European affairs. With a Europe-wide perspective, BM covers policies and politics of the EU, significant Member State developments, and looks at the international agenda with a European perspective.
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Martin Banks is an experienced British-born journalist who has been covering the EU beat (and much else besides) in Brussels since 2001. Previously, he had worked for many years in regional journalism in the UK and freelanced for national titles. He has a keen interest in foreign affairs and has closely followed the workings of the European Parliament and MEPs in particular for some years.