US and allies condemn China over Hong Kong national security law

Law a direct violation of China’s international obligations, says a joint statement by the US, UK, Canada and Australia.

China’s plan to impose a new security law on Hong Kong puts it in direct violation of its international commitments, the United States and its allies – the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia – have said.

“China’s decision to impose the new national security law on Hong Kong lies in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration,” a joint statement released by the four countries said on Thursday.

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The proposed Chinese law would undermine the “one country, two systems” framework, the four allies said in the statement, referring to the arrangement under which Hong Kong, a former British colony, was handed back to China in 1997.

“Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom,” the US and allies said, adding their “deep concern regarding Beijing’s decision to impose a national security law in Hong Kong”.

The condemnation was issued after China’s parliament earlier on Thursday rubber-stamped a law initially proposed by the National People’s Congress (NPC) after huge pro-democracy protests rocked the financial hub for nearly 11 months.

The vote was 2,878-1 with six abstentions, in line with the high-profile but largely ceremonial body’s custom of near-unanimous support for all legal changes decided by the ruling Communist Party.

The law will alter Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, or Basic Law, to require the territory to enforce measures to be decided by the NPC’s standing committee, a small body controlled by the governing party that handles most legislative work.

China says the legislation will aim to tackle secession, subversion, “terrorism” and foreign interference in the city but the plan, unveiled in Beijing last week, triggered the first big protests in Hong Kong for months.

US-China tensions

The US and allies said they were “extremely concerned that this action will exacerbate the existing deep divisions in Hong Kong society”.

“The law does nothing to build mutual understanding and foster reconciliation within Hong Kong,” they said.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the US Congress on Wednesday that the White House no longer regards Hong Kong as autonomous from mainland China, further deteriorating relations between the two nations.

Pompeo’s notice to the US Congress added Hong Kong to the Trump administration’s increasing conflicts with China over trade, technology, religious freedom, Chinese handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the status of Taiwan, the self-ruled island Beijing claims as its territory.

More than 1,300 US companies have offices in Hong Kong, providing about 100,000 jobs.

“Several countries have expressed deep concern over this law, but the United States has been the loudest and strongest in its rebuke,” Al Jazeera’s Katrina Yu reported from Beijing.

Yu said the US-China relationship has hit an all-time low, one of the “lowest points it has been in decades”.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas also defended the autonomy of Hong Kong, asserting that “freedom of expression and assembly and also democratic debate in Hong Kong must continue to be respected in the future”.

China, meanwhile, said it would take necessary countermeasures to any foreign interference into what it insists are its internal affairs.

Premier Li Keqiang, in a news conference on Thursday, called for mutual respect and Sino-US cooperation to promote “extensive common interests” in resolving global problems and promoting trade, science and other fields.

“Both countries stand to gain from cooperation and lose from confrontation,” Li said.


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Ex-Malaysia PM Mahathir Mohamad expelled from own political party

Mahathir, who was chairman of United Indigenous Party of Malaysia, is fired for not supporting the country’s government.

Malaysia’s former Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad has been sacked by the political party he co-founded after sitting on opposition benches during a May 18 parliamentary session.

A statement on Thursday from the United Indigenous Party of Malaysia, known by its Malay acronym Bersatu, said Mahathir’s membership had been “revoked with immediate effect”.

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Mahathir, who was party chairman, was fired for not supporting Malaysia’s government, which is headed by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, the Bersatu president.

In a letter circulated widely on social media, the party stated that Mahathir automatically ceased to be a member after he made a show of rejecting Muhyiddin’s leadership as prime minister and party president by sitting with the opposition when parliament met last week.

An aide to Muhyiddin confirmed the letters were authentic.

Mahathir’s office declined an immediate response to a request for comment as it had not yet seen the letter itself, an aide said.

Muhyiddin’s move is being widely seen as an attempt to consolidate power as he faces a possible challenge to his nascent premiership.

Mahathir, now nearly 95, was the world’s oldest government leader until he unexpectedly quit in February, sparking a frantic weeklong power struggle.

The crisis ended with Muhyiddin, who founded Bersatu with Mahathir before joining a four-party alliance that won 2018 elections, being nominated as the prime minister.

Muhyiddin heads a new coalition backed by the United Malays National Organisation, the party once led by Najib Razak, who is on trial over corruption charges dating to his tenure as prime minister up to 2018.

Mahathir, who decided shortly after resigning that he wanted to be prime minister again, bitterly opposed the new government and denounced his former ally as a traitor.

Mahathir sought a confidence vote in Muhyiddin on May 18 but the parliamentary sitting was restricted to an address by King Abdullah, prompting a furious Mahathir to claim “democracy is dead” in Malaysia.

Four other legislators were removed from Bersatu along with Mahathir, including his son, Mukhriz, who earlier this month was deposed as head of the regional administration in Kedah, a state in northern Malaysia, by the same alliance-shifting that handed Muhyiddin the top job.

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NZ rugby players return to training under strict health measures

More than two months after the Super Rugby was called off, New Zealand teams have returned to training for a revamped five-team domestic competition.

Professional rugby players in New Zealand are back on the field.

The Super Rugby club competition was suspended in mid-March because of the global coronavirus pandemic and now the country’s teams are starting their own league.

Training sessions are being held under strict health guidelines while the games, which start on June 13, will be played in empty stadiums.

But some major questions are hanging over the future of the game there, as Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay reports from Hamilton.

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Christchurch mosque attacks: Gunman changes plea to guilty

Brenton Tarrant, an Australian white supremacist, is accused of killing 51 people at two mosques in New Zealand in 2019.

The Australian man accused of killing 51 Muslim worshippers at two mosques in New Zealand in March last year entered a surprise guilty plea to all 51 charges of murder at a special session of a Christchurch court on Thursday.

Brenton Tarrant, who appeared by video link, also pleaded guilty to 40 charges of attempted murder and a terrorism charge, public broadcaster TVNZ said.

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The 29-year-old had previously pleaded not guilty and was due to face trial in June.

New Zealand’s worst-ever mass shootingtook place on March 15 last year when the lone attacker targeted Muslims attending Friday prayers in Christchurch, broadcasting his attack live on Facebook.

The court will now sentence Tarrant on all 92 charges, but did not provide a date for the sentencing. The gunman was remanded in custody until his next court appearance on May 1, TVNZ said.

New Zealand is now in a month-long lockdown to curb the spread of the coronavirus and the hearing took place with minimal staff, lawyers and media in the court, which placed a one hour embargo on the news so that family members and victims could be informed.


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