Deputy leader O’Neill ‘endorsed controversial laws’ in call, claims Chinese consulate
SINN FÉIN is facing calls to clarify its position on Hong Kong’s controversial security laws after the party’s deputy leader, Michelle O’Neill, reportedly endorsed them in a recent video call with a Chinese government representative in Belfast.
Ms O’Neill, who is the North’s Deputy First Minister, and First Minister Arlene Foster were criticised on Tuesday after they reportedly said they “understand and respect” security laws introduced in Hong Kong during a video call with Chinese Consul General Zhang Meifang.
The Chinese-backed security laws have drawn widespread international condemnation and sparked protests in the territory in recent weeks.
The Irish News reported on the Chinese government’s account of the video call between the two senior Stormont ministers and Ms Zhang on Tuesday.
After initially not disputing the consulate’s account in two separate statements, a spokesperson for the Northern Executive Office eventually stated: “The consulate’s report does not reflect ministers’ positions on Hong Kong security legislation, nor their comments at a recent courtesy meeting with the Chinese Consul General. As these matters are not devolved, ministers stated their awareness of the issues and their hope that the matter could be resolved.”
This came after Ms Foster tweeted to say her position was that of the UK government and she would be writing to Ms Zhang “to underscore my disappointment” with the consulate's account.
Ms O’Neill also tweeted, saying she made it "very clear" in the meeting "that I supported the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ international agreement".
However, it is unclear whether Ms O’Neill will co-sign the letter being drafted by officials at Stormont. A DUP spokesman said it was a matter for Ms O’Neill, while Sinn Féin did not respond to further queries on the matter.
Fine Gael TD Neale Richmond said the reported comments were “worrying” and Ms O’Neill and Sinn Féin needed to clarify their position on the new laws.
“The situation in Hong Kong is extremely serious. While it is welcome that Ms O’Neill stressed her support for ‘One Country, Two Systems’, did she raise concerns over the introduction of draconian security laws?
“Did she speak for the many Irish caught up in the chaos of Hong Kong? Does she agree that these new security laws need to be halted?”
Under an international treaty signed in 1997, China guaranteed Hong Kong residents’ civil liberties as well as judicial and legislative autonomy for 50 years, a formula known as ‘One Country, Two Systems’.
China argues the new security laws are in line with the treaty, but the British government disputes this, while Ireland’s Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney said the laws risk undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy.
Under the new laws, introduced unilaterally on June 30, certain political views and symbols – including showing support for Hong Kong, Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet independence - are effectively illegal.
Mr Richmond pointed out that Sinn Féin was not a signatory to a recent letter authored by former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten condemning the legislation.
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