A report submitted by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission on Wednesday has drawn attention to declining press and academic freedom in Hong Kong, urging the US to increase its support for these values locally. Hong Kong’s government has responded by saying that foreign governments should not interfere with the territory’s internal affairs.
In the Commission’s latest Annual Report to Congress, the US Department of State is encouraged to strengthen ties with Hong Kong so as to support the territory’s maintenance of its press and academic freedom.
The report also suggests, for the first time ever, working with UK parliamentarians to review of China’s adherence to the Basic Law in the years since Hong Kong’s 1997 handover. Rule of law, universal suffrage and press freedom are identified as areas of particular concern.
The report also notes that both the US and UK were disappointed at the outcome of the electoral reform process, citing the US Consulate in Hong Kong as saying that ‘‘the legitimacy of the chief executive would be greatly enhanced if the chief executive were selected through universal suffrage and if Hong Kong’s residents had a meaningful choice of candidates.’’
Attention is also drawn to declining press freedom in Hong Kong, observing that the city has fallen in rankings by Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders.
It also raises the issue of violence against journalists, recalling the attack on ex-Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau and assaults during the pro-democracy Occupy movement last year. Politically motivated censorship, such as the editorial decision by Ming Pao to move a cover story on Tiananmen to an inside page and the dismissal of columnists from the South China Morning Post, are also cited.
Another issue mentioned in the report is the blocking of the appointment of Johannes Chan as the pro-vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong. The report said that since the Occupy protests, academic freedom has been increasingly infringed upon by the HKSAR government.
HKSAR: ‘Foreign governments should not interfere’
In response to the report, a government spokesman said on Wednesday that Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy under the One Country, Two Systems arrangement.
“Hong Kong attaches great importance to upholding academic freedom and press freedom, and enjoys a high degree of autonomy,” the spokesman said, stressing that these freedoms are enshrined in both the Basic Law and the Bill of Rights Ordinance.
“The eight University Grants Committee-funded institutions are all independent and autonomous statutory bodies,” he continued: “They have their own governing ordinances and statutes which set out their objectives, functions and governance structure. The legislation provides the institutions with the power and freedom to carry out their objectives and functions.”
Regarding the section on press freedom, the government responded that “the media reports freely in Hong Kong and rigorously performs its role as a watchdog. Over 80 foreign media organisations have offices in Hong Kong and operate alongside a diverse array of local media with no intervention from the Government.”
Finally, “foreign governments and legislatures” were cautioned that they “should not interfere in any form in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.”
Although China frequently condemns foreign countries for “meddling” in its internal affairs, particularly when human rights issues are concerned, the phrase is used less often by Hong Kong officials. However, the SAR government issued a statement in June asking foreign countries not to interfere in Hong Kong’s elections or law enforcement following a US report on human rights.
After the issue was brought up in the US Senate in February, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen also said that policy reform is a matter of Hong Kong’s internal affairs and asked other countries not to interfere.