The Chinese consulate in Belfast has amended an article that claimed the leaders of Northern Ireland said they understood and respected the National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong, after the two leaders said on Tuesday the article misrepresented their comments.
The first minister of Northern Ireland, Arlene Foster, and deputy first minister, Michelle O’Neill, both denied that they endorsed the draconian National Security Law.
Foster wrote on Twitter that she was disappointed that what was said during a video call last month was misrepresented.
“My position on Hong Kong is the same as that of HMG [Her Majesty’s Government]. The article in today’s press misrepresents what was said at our meeting with the Chinese Consul General. I will be writing to Madame Zhang to underscore my disappointment,” Foster wrote.
My position on Hong Kong is the same as that of HMG. The article in today’s press misrepresents what was said at our meeting with the Chinese Consul General. I will be writing to Madame Zhang to underscore my disappointment.
— Arlene Foster #We’llMeetAgain (@DUPleader) August 11, 2020
Foster was referring to a report in The Irish News on Tuesday that translated an article on the Chinese consulate website containing the alleged statements.
“I made it very clear that I supported the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ international agreement,” Michelle O’Neill wrote on Twitter.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has condemned the National Security Law, saying it “constitutes a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.” The UK government has suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and offered British National (Overseas) passport holders a path to citizenship in the UK in response to the law.
The Deleted Comment
The Chinese report on a video call between the first minister, the deputy first minister, and the Chinese Consul General in Belfast Madame Zhang Meifang was first published on the Chinese consulate website on July 23.
“Foster and O’Neill expressed gratitude toward the precious support from China during the pandemic, and said that the government of Northern Ireland cherishes the friendship with China, understands and respects the national security legislation in Hong Kong, and sincerely wishes for more prosperity and stability in Hong Kong,” the final paragraph read.
The paragraph has been deleted from the article on the Chinese consulate website, but so far remains in the version on the Chinese Foreign Ministry website.
In a statement to The Irish News on Tuesday, the Northern Ireland Executive Office said, “The consulate’s report does not reflect ministers’ positions on Hong Kong security legislation, nor their comments at a recent courtesy meeting with the Chinese Consul General.”
Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland program director and head of nations and regions at Amnesty International UK, told The Irish News that he thought “surely this cannot be true.”
“If this is an accurate report of the meeting, then the first and deputy first minister have let down the people of Northern Ireland and betrayed the people of Hong Kong and the Uighur community in China,” he said.
He wanted to know if the ministers brought up human rights issues during the meeting, such as the disqualification of pro-democracy candidates, and the holding of Uighur Muslims in re-education camps.
“If the first and deputy first minister did challenge these human rights abuses, given the official Chinese report, we now need clear evidence of that. The Northern Ireland Executive must urgently publish its note of the meeting,” he said.
“We cannot have our highest elected representatives tacitly going along with China’s egregious human rights violations, whether in Hong Kong or mainland China.”
Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong echoed Corrigan’s comments.
“It will be unbelievably scandalous if it is really the case that the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland have said that they ‘understand and respect’ Beijing’s human rights abuses under its sweeping national security law,” he wrote on Twitter on Wednesday.
“It will be more worrying if the Northern Ireland government chooses to turn a blind eye to the potential human rights concerns behind the law and bow down low to Beijing solely in exchange for more economic ties with China in business and education.
“Therefore, we hope the Northern Ireland government can clarify its stance and stand up for the liberal values that the world cherishes.”
Since the Chinese regime imposed the national security law on Hong Kong, several high-profile people have been arrested under the new law, including pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow, ITV News freelance journalist Wilson Li, and media tycoon Jimmy Lai.