Australian Foreign Minister Joins Five Eyes’ Condemning ‘Erosion of Democratic Elements’ in Hong Kong

By Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
Daniel Y. Teng
December 20, 2021 Updated: December 20, 2021

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has joined Five Eyes partners in expressing grave concern over the “erosion of democratic elements” in recent elections in Hong Kong that delivered a major victory to pro-Beijing candidates.

“Since handover, candidates with diverse political views have contested elections in Hong Kong. Yesterday’s election has reversed this trend,” according to a joint statement from the five foreign ministers and leaders.

“The overhaul of Hong Kong’s electoral system introduced earlier this year reduced the number of directly elected seats and established a new vetting process to severely restrict the choice of candidates on the ballot paper,” he added.

“These changes eliminated any meaningful political opposition. Meanwhile, many of the city’s opposition politicians—most notably the majority of the ‘NSL 47’—remain in prison pending trial, with others in exile overseas.”

Epoch Times Photo
(L-R) Australian Defense Minister Peter Dutton, Foreign Minister Marise Payne, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin pose for a group photograph at the State Department in Washington, DC, on September 16, 2021 (Andrew Harnik/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The statement was authorised by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, UK Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne, Canadian Foreign Minister Melanie Joly, and New Zealand Foreign Minister Nanaia Mahuta.

The Hong Kong poll was run after a major overhaul of the electoral system, which meant only candidates recognised as “patriots” by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) were allowed to run—effectively ruling out pro-democracy candidates.

The number of candidates that the public could elect was also reduced from 35 to 20, despite the Legislative Council being expanded from 70 to 90 seats.

In response, voter turnout was the lowest historically, with turnout being only 30.2 percent, or around 1,350,680 people, compared to the 50 percent turnout in 2012.

“Actions that undermine Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and a high degree of autonomy are threatening our shared wish to see Hong Kong succeed,” the leaders said.

They warned of a “wider chilling effect” of the National Security Law, a contentious law passed last year that punishes any act defined as secession or subversion of the state—a broad interpretation of the law would catch dissidents and democracy activists.

“NGOs, trade unions and human rights organisations not supportive of the government’s agenda have been forced to disband or leave, while media freedoms are being curtailed at pace,” the Five Eyes’ said.

In response, Sen. James Risch (R-Idaho), ranking member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wrote on Twitter, “With only 30.2 percent of registered voters casting ballots in Sunday’s elections, it’s obvious #HongKongers refuse to participate in sham elections orchestrated by the #CCP. Elections, where the candidates are pre-chosen by #Beijing, do not equal #democracy.”

While Australian Shadow Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Penny Wong said the opposition was “deeply disappointed and concerned” by the election result.

“Unfortunately, the Legislative Council elections overnight are yet another illustration of the continuing erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy and democratic freedoms, as guaranteed in the Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, to which China had committed,” she said in a statement.

“This further undermining of Hong Kong’s democracy and the One Country, Two Systems arrangement is not the behaviour of a responsible global power.”