A war of words between Beijing and the West over Hong Kong’s jailed democrats

Hong Kong (AsiaNews) - The Chinese authorities are lashing out at Western politicians and institutions demanding the release of the media mogul Jimmy Lai and other members of the democratic front.

The attack was launched yesterday by a spokesman for the city commissioner of the Chinese Foreign Ministry who spoke of forces "interfering" in the country's internal affairs, often glorifying "criminals" as "democratic warriors" and obstructing the administration of justice under local law.

China's harsh response was to the criticism of some Western governments of recent jail sentences imposed on Lai, former MP Lee Cheuk-yan and eight other Democratic personalities. They are all accused of organizing and taking part in massive anti-government demonstrations in August 2019. The sentences against them range from a minimum of eight to a maximum of 18 months in prison. Lai is already in prison awaiting trial for threatening national security.

According to the government's People's Daily, the sentencing of democracy activists is a necessary application of the rule of law. It responds to popular expectation of an end to the chaos in the former British colony.

US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said the sentences were " are unacceptable and incompatible with the non-violent nature of their actions ". For the head of diplomacy in Washington, detainees have the right to exercise their "fundamental rights".

On April 16, a spokesman for the European Union called the sentences "a further sign of the continuing contraction of the democratic space and the erosion of Hong Kong's fundamental freedoms". The EU official added that the latest developments in the city will have an impact on relations with China.

Reports from Reuters and the South China Morning Post claim, however, that Hungary has blocked a joint statement of criticism and a series of sanctions, including the suspension of extradition treaties with China.

The European authorities should have announced the punitive measures against Beijing today, at the end of an informal meeting of the foreign ministers of the member states. Instead, the Union presented its strategy for the Indo-Pacific.

 According to the plan, the EU must strengthen "focus, presence and actions" in the region on the basis of promoting democracy, the rule of law, human rights and international law. European diplomats have specified that the strategy is not "anti-Chinese".