China’s ambassador warns Belgian lawmakers as they debate resolutions on Hong Kong

·4-min read

China’s ambassador to Belgium has been accused of trying to hinder the country’s democratic processes, after he sent a warning letter to local lawmakers who are considering punitive action over the sweeping national security law imposed on Hong Kong.

Cao Zhongming, in a letter seen by the South China Morning Post, said that the draft resolutions “distorted and smeared the Hong Kong national security law, and interfered in China’s internal affairs”.

“We express our serious concern about this,” Cao wrote in a letter to Els Van Hoof, the head of Belgium’s parliamentary foreign affairs committee, adding that he had “talked to you on several occasions” about China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong. The letter was first reported by local Belgian media.

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Lawmakers in Belgium’s parliament are debating the draft proposals, which were written in September 2020 but which will be updated this week. Once adopted by the committee, they will be put to a non-binding vote, which will constitute the position of the parliament.

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The government is not legally bound to adopt the measures, which condemn Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong and promote a tough response, but significant backing in the parliament may be difficult for the coalition government to ignore.

“It’s very clear that China is trying to prevent democratically elected parliamentarians from adopting any kind of stance on the human rights situation in Hong Kong,” said Samuel Cogolati, a Green Party MP and a co-author of the resolutions.

“But at the same time, it would be extremely naive to believe that we would be intimidated by this kind of letter,” he added.

China sanctioned Cogolati earlier this year after the parliament passed his resolution warning that a “serious risk of genocide” existed against the Muslim Uygur community in the far-western Chinese region of Xinjiang.

“It would be extremely naive to believe that we would be intimidated by this kind of letter,” Belgian lawmaker Samuel Cogolati said. Photo: Samuel Cogolati
“It would be extremely naive to believe that we would be intimidated by this kind of letter,” Belgian lawmaker Samuel Cogolati said. Photo: Samuel Cogolati

Draft measures demand that the government summon the Chinese ambassador to “clarify the position of the Belgian government on the national security law and on the civil and political rights and freedoms of citizens of Hong Kong”.

They seek sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials who have been involved in carrying out the laws, and support Belgian efforts at the European Union to aid Hongkongers hoping to move to Europe.

Belgium is one of 10 EU countries which maintains an extradition treaty with China. The resolutions urge the government to scrap it, and to cut economic dependence on China and Chinese companies, including the telecoms giant Huawei Technologies.

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Cao defended the national security law, saying its enactment resulted “major positive changes” in Hong Kong.

“The people have regained a peaceful life, social justice has been fully demonstrated, Hong Kong society has returned to the right track, and the Hong Kong market and investment environment have become more stable,” he wrote.

The people have regained a peaceful life, social justice has been fully demonstrated, Hong Kong society has returned to the right track

Cao Zhongming, China’s ambassador to Belgium

The law has been roundly criticised in the West. In June, the EU said that the shutting of the Apple Daily newspaper “clearly shows how the national security law imposed by Beijing is being used to stifle freedom of the press and the free expression of opinions”.

The European Parliament has also recommended sanctions in response to the crackdown, as well as a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics next year.

“China clearly wants to avoid prying eyes. The argument that the repression in Hong Kong is an internal affair is of course incorrect,” said Wouter De Vriendt, another Green Party MP and co-author of the resolutions.

“Human rights are universal; every country is its guardian. Intervening when people are oppressed is everyone’s duty,” he added.

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