The Hong Kong government has said it “vehemently refutes” an annual report released by a US congressional advisory panel that said Hong Kong’s legal system “increasingly mimics that of the mainland” and “threatens foreign businesses and expatriates” in the city.
In a statement released in the early hours of Wednesday, the government said the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission (USCC) report “again made slandering remarks and ill-intentioned political attacks against the HKSAR.”
In the 700-page report released on Tuesday, the USCC – formed by a bipartisan panel of former US senior officials and researchers – said “[w]ith Beijing’s handpicked chief executive now at the helm, China firmly controls all branches of Hong Kong’s government. ” The document, which explores economic and national security implications of the relationship between the US and China, dedicated a 64-page-long chapter to its findings on Hong Kong.
The report said Beijing loyalists had been inserted into every branch of the city’s government, and an overhaul of the electoral system had “created a rubberstamp parliament full of so-called patriots.”
In response, the Hong Kong government said the USCC made “untruthful allegations,” saying the new electoral process demonstrated “broad representation, fair competition, political inclusiveness and balanced participation.”
“No one in any country or region in the world will ever allow political power to fall into the hands of forces or individuals who do not love, or even sell out or betray, their own country,” Hong Kong’s official statement read.
Beijing passed legislation to overhaul Hong Kong’s electoral system in March 2021 to ensure the city is governed by “patriots.” The new process reduced democratic representation in the legislature and introduced a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates, with the authorities saying it would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity.
Pro-establishment lawmakers swept the legislature last December in an election that saw no opposition candidates standing and record-low turnout. Former security chief and chief secretary John Lee then ran uncontested and was selected a Hong Kong’s next leader months later.
National security law concerns
The USCC also said that Hong Kong’s rule of law “continues to be undermined.”
“The territorial government is moving to a legal system that increasingly mimics that of the Mainland, threatening prospects for journalists and civil society as well as U.S. and other
foreign businesses and expatriates in the territory,” the report wrote.
The panel said only Beijing-approved judges ruled on national security cases, security forces had increased “politically motivated” arrests and detentions, and the city was working to implement Article 23 – its own security law – to reinforce the existing national security law.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government said the report “maliciously slanders” the city’s security legislation, as all law enforcement actions have been “strictly according to the law” and prosecutions are “free from any interference.” Hong Kong’s judiciary also exercises its judicial power independently, according to the official statement.
The city’s authorities added USCC’s attempt to “smear” the legislation on Article 23 before any proposals have been raised was “contemptible.”
Changes to education system
The US congressional panel report said Hong Kong’s education system had been placed under “intense scrutiny” as well.
It wrote that China attempts to “rewrite Hong Kong’s history” by erasing the city’s former status as a British colony in textbooks under a new curriculum replacing Liberal Studies, as well as foster a unified national identity with the mainland. The report also said the city was deprioritising the use of Cantonese and promoting that of Mandarin in schools.
The Hong Kong government responded by saying that it was “an indisputable fact that Hong Kong has been part of China’s territory since ancient times” and the USCC report has “distorted the truth.” It also said the panel’s accusation regarding the status of Cantonese was “fabricated and completely fallacious.”
Covid-19 measures and economic prospect
The USCC said Hong Kong’s brain drain would intensify due to its “increasingly repressive security and Covid-19 measures,” and foreign companies operating in the city “are likely to struggle with hiring or even seconding foreign staff to the territory.”
It also said Hong Kong was shifting from acting as a regional hub to serving primarily as gateway to mainland China, adding that more US companies were poised to take regional operations and headquarters out of Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government, in response, said “[t]here is no place for the US to comment on the anti-epidemic policies of China, including HKSAR,” as the US had the highest number of Covid-19 cases and related deaths while China had among the lowest infection rate and mortality rate globally.
Hong Kong’s status as an international financial centre was “unshakable,” the statement continued, adding that the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong recently said most of its members intended to stay in Hong Kong.