China "deplores and rejects" a statement from Five Eyes foreign ministers expressing "deep concern" at Beijing's imposition of a new security law on Hong Kong and the postponement of local elections.
The foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the United Kingdom as well as the United States Secretary of State on Monday released a joint statement on the "erosion of rights in Hong Kong".
The five figures said they were "gravely concerned by the Hong Kong government’s unjust disqualification of candidates and disproportionate postponement of Legislative Council elections".
They also expressed "deep concern" at Beijing's recent imposition of a new security law on Hong Kong, which gives China a greater role in Hong Kong's judicial system, allowing those in the city to be extradited to the mainland for trial. Concern around that legislation prompted New Zealand to suspend its extradition treaty with Hong Kong.
"Beijing promised autonomy and freedoms under the 'One Country, Two Systems' principle to the Hong Kong people in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, a UN-registered treaty, and must honour its commitments. We urge the Hong Kong government to hold the elections as soon as possible," Monday's statement said.
"China deplores and rejects the joint statement on Hong Kong by the foreign ministers of the Five Eyes. It is another evidence of their interference in China's internal affairs and Hong Kong Legislative Council election. China has made stern representations with the relevant countries," Zhao Lijian, the nation's Foreign Ministry spokesperson, said.
Zhao said Hong Kong's decision to postpone September's parliamentary elections by a year was a "justified and necessary step" to ensure citizens' safety and a fair election in the middle of a "raging pandemic".
Before postponing the election, the Hong Kong government also banned 12 pro-democracy candidates from participating in the local election. It said people who advocated for Hong Kong independence or objected to the new security law didn't uphold the city's Basic Law and couldn't be Legislative Council members.
Campaigners had been hoping to secure a majority in the Legislative Council in the wake of widespread protests and anger towards Beijing. After their disqualification, the United Kingdom's Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said it was "clear they have been disqualified because of their political views".
China's spokesperson said elections have also been temporarily postponed in other parts of the world due to the pandemic.
"To my knowledge, more than 60 countries and regions have postponed national or local elections due to COVID-19. For example, the UK announced in March that local elections in places like England originally scheduled in May would be postponed to May 2021.
"It is typical double standards that the Five Eyes chose to interpret the Hong Kong SAR government's decision in a twisted political way."
Zhao said the Five Eyes didn't represent the entire international community. He pointed to a list of countries which at the United National Human Rights Council in July supported China's new law. They included North Korea, Cambodia, Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
"Hong Kong is China's special administrative region and its Legislative Council election is China's local election and purely Hong Kong's internal affairs. No foreign government, organization or individual has any right or reason to interfere," Zhao said.
On Monday, Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai became the most high-profile figure to be arrested under the national security law. He was one of the city's most prominent pro-democracy activists and his arrest has troubled academics.
"[The arrest] bears out the worst fears that Hong Kong's national security law would be used to suppress critical pro-democracy opinion and restrict press freedom," Steven Butler, the Committee to Protect Journalists' Asia programme coordinator, told Reuters.
After New Zealand suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong - which other Five Eyes countries also did - China accused Aotearoa of "gross interference in China's internal affairs" and suspended Hong Kong's deal with New Zealand.
Foreign Minister Winston Peters told Newshub Nation earlier this month that New Zealand wanted the Middle Kingdom to uphold its commitment to the 'one country, two systems' principle it set out when Hong Kong was transferred to China in 1997.
"You can look at the language where it is said that they have hit back, but the reality is I was there as New Zealand's representative in 1997 in the handover of Hong Kong and the 'one country, two systems' guarantee that the Chinese government gave at that occasion," Peters said.
"Everybody understands it, and, so, to say it's an interference from New Zealand or other countries is really a massive misuse of language. It's nothing of the sort. What we're saying is, 'We trusted you in your commitment of 1997. Please honour it, and if you do, we will review our position.'"