Wed, 12 May 2021

Brussels [Belgium], April 16 (ANI): The European Union is preparing new measures to punish Beijing for overhauling Hong Kong's electoral system that will further clamp down on opposition voices in the region.

South China Morning Post (SCMP) reported that sources say the measures could include a suspension of member state extradition treaties with China, although they are yet finalised by the officials who are busy laying the groundwork for Monday's meeting of all 27 EU foreign ministers.

"The Foreign Affairs Council, which meets each month, will announce a range of light touch measures that have already been agreed. These are fuzzy in nature and include more engagement with civil society and promotion of freedom of expression. Among them is a visit 'when the situation allows' of high-level officials to Hong Kong to 'engage with key stakeholders', followed by a report chronicling the evolution of the rule of law in the city," SCMP reported.

Also up for discussion is a proposal to "welcome Hong Kong citizens who may be subject to repression". This would include measures to "support the mobility of highly qualified workers, students and young people" into the EU.

South China Morning Post further reported that one senior Western diplomat said it was "ridiculous" that any country from the bloc maintained an extradition treaty with China, after every state except Czech Republic and Portugal had suspended their accords with Hong Kong.

It also reported that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken was in Brussels for the second time in a month this week for Nato meetings. And, while on his last visit, Blinken assured the EU he "won't force allies into an 'us-or-them' choice with China", many in the bloc are finding it difficult to say no.

"Europe, Japan want to stay in the middle ground, but the more China continues to force their hands with coercive behaviour, the more we will have to choose and we will go for our values-driven foreign policy. China will drive Europe into Biden's arms," said a senior diplomat.

Another Western diplomat said Europe was now sceptical as to whether China was serious about their bilateral Comprehensive Agreement on Investment (CAI). The deal, which still needs to be ratified by the European Parliament, is on the rocks after Beijing sanctioned elected members, as well as the EU's lawmaking Political Security Committee.

"We can see from this that they are not serious. If we designed a tool that would ensure the CAI would not pass, it would look quite like those sanctions," they said.

Last month, the European Union confirmed its first sanctions on Chinese officials since 1989, targeting four officials and one entity for the attrocities against the Uyghur community.

In retaliation to the bloc's sanctions, China has decided to introduce sanctions against ten European Union officials and four European organizations after accusing them of spreading lies and false information about the Xinjiang region.

Earlier, Brussels had hit out at China for the political conditions in Hong Kong, describing it as an "alarming political deterioration" and a "severe erosion of autonomy, democracy and fundamental freedoms".

China's National Peoples' Congress Standing Committee approved sweeping changes to Hong Kong's electoral system which would empower the Election Committee - originally tasked with picking the chief executive - the right to nominate all candidates aspiring to be lawmakers and elect 40 representatives of its own to the city's Legislative Council.

Despite fierce international condemnation, China approved the contentious resolution, a move that critics say could further smother opposition voices in Hong Kong. Several countries have condemned Beijing's move to overhaul Hong Kong's electoral system.

This overhaul comes on the back of the China imposed the draconian National Security Law in Hong Kong last year. The law criminalises secession, subversion, and collusion with foreign forces and carries with it strict prison terms. It came into effect from July 1. Since then, a number of former pro-democracy lawmakers have been arrested. (ANI)

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