Hong Kong’s remaining pro-democracy opposition lawmaker stepped down on Thursday en masse in solidarity with four lawmakers who were disqualified earlier this week, leaving mostly pro-Beijing members in office.
China could face new US sanctions for disqualification, which “leave no doubt” that the Chinese Communist Party “has blatantly violated its international obligations,” the national security adviser said Robert O’Brien said Wednesday.
The UK, which has historic colonial ties with Hong Kong, said Thursday the disqualification Beijing violated international law.
Beijing earlier this year pressure the burgeoning pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong with a criminal national security law purporting to outlaw secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.
Activists and international observers say the law violates the longtime freedoms granted to the city by “one country, two systems” – the constitutional principle that grants Hong Kong various democratic freedoms not allowed in mainland China.
In a final demonstration of defiance against Beijing, the remaining 15 Democratic Party’s lawmakers walked out of the 70-seat Hong Kong legislative council known as Legco, saying they had no regrets.
Opposition lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who displayed a white banner slandering Carrie Lam, the city’s leader, was one of those who resigned Thursday.
“Today some may feel discouraged and sad … but we have to believe that the night is long and the light will always come,” he said Facebook.
“We are leaving the legislature at this point, but we are NOT leaving the struggle for democracy in Hong Kong,” said another opposition politician Claudia Mo on Twitter, after she and other lawmakers closed their hands at a press conference announcing her resignation.
Hong Kong’s Beijing-backed government expelled four opposition members from the legislature on Wednesday for endangering national security after China’s lawmakers gave city authorities new powers to contain disagreements.
The resignations mean the end of one of the few dissent forums after Beijing introduced the security law in June.
“The democratic process has been sabotaged by the political will of the party state,” Eliza Lee, professor of politics at the University of Hong Kong, told NBC News.
“All elected lawmakers are now subject to the discipline of Beijing’s red line,” she said, adding that “external pressure” is now likely the only limitation.
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The United Kingdom, which controlled Hong Kong until 1997, said on Thursday that China was violating the Sino-British joint declaration guaranteeing Hong Kong’s autonomy under the One Country, Two Systems formula signed in 1984.
“China has once again broken its promises and undermined Hong Kong’s high level of autonomy. Britain will stand up for the people of Hong Kong and declare violations of their rights and freedoms,” said Foreign Minister Dominic Raab said.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s managing director Carrie Lam defended the expulsion of the four opposition members as compliant with the law and rejected proposals that the legislature would become a “stamp” without opposition members.
“We, especially me, welcome different opinions in the Legislative Council. I respect the Legislative Council’s responsibility for control and balance,” said Lam Reporter.
“If some members of the Legislative Council are not there to fulfill their constitutional duties, many people will have a lot to say about their behavior.”
China denies the restriction of rights and freedoms in the global financial center, but the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing have decided to quell dissent after protests against the government broke out last year.
“We would like to warn these opposition members that this is a miscalculation if they are to use this to encourage radical resistance and seek outside intervention to bring Hong Kong back into chaos,” said China’s Hong Kong Office for Affairs Macau in a statement Wednesday.
China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman, Wang Wenbin, told reporters during a briefing on Wednesday that the matter is an internal matter and “a justified and legitimate decision that is made in accordance with the Constitution and other laws.”
The disqualifications and opposition strike are likely to raise concerns about Hong Kong’s autonomy in the West as Joe Biden prepares to replace Donald Trump as US President and vows to promote democracy around the world.
Reuters contributed to this report.