Britain, Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the US have called on Hong Kong to reinstate disqualified candidates and hold legislative elections at the earliest. Activists say the vote was postponed at China’s behest.
In a joint statement on Sunday, foreign ministers of the "core Anglosphere" nations condemned the Hong Kong government for postponing the legislative council elections.
The statement said the governments — whose intelligence cooperation is known as the Five Eyes alliance — were "gravely concerned" by the disqualification of pro-democracy candidates.
"We call on the Hong Kong government to reinstate the eligibility of disqualified candidates so that the elections can take place in an environment conducive to the exercise of democratic rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Basic Law," the statement said.
On July 31, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that she was delaying the election planned for September 6 because of mounting concern about the coronavirus pandemic. She said the election would instead be held on September 5, 2021.
Read more: Hong Kong election delay may be 'unlawful'
But pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong say the pandemic was being used as an excuse to delay the election.
The joint statement of the five nations also criticized China's new security law for Hong Kong, which, critics say, will help Beijing quash dissent and increase its control on the territory.
"We express deep concern at Beijing's imposition of the new National Security Law, which is eroding the Hong Kong people's fundamental rights and liberties," the five ministers said.
The Hong Kong opposition had expected to make gains on the back of widespread resentment about the controversial security law. The legislation — to punish what China defines as secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers — was widely criticized by opponents and Western countries as damaging to citizens' rights.
Among the provisions was the possibility for the Hong Kong government to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China. The law was imposed on June 30, since when there has been a marked crackdown on opposition activity.
Critics say the new law is inconsistent with freedoms that were promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Supporters say it will restore some stability to Hong Kong after a year of protests.
"Beijing promised autonomy and freedoms under the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle to the Hong Kong people in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN-registered treaty, and must honor its commitments. We urge the Hong Kong government to hold the elections as soon as possible," the statement read.
On Friday, the US announced sanctions targeting 11 Chinese Communist Party officials in mainland China and their affiliates in Hong Kong, including Chief Executive Lam.
Last month, China accused the UK of interfering in its internal affairs after Britain suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong. The UK became the fourth nation, after Canada, Australia and the United States, to revoke its extradition agreement with the semi-autonomous city.
Britain had previously outraged China by offering residents of Hong Kong a pathway to UK citizenship, in response to the security law.
shs/rc (AFP, Reuters, dpa)