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China must not stifle democracy.

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MEDIA CHINA MUST NOT STIFLE DEMOCRACY The Australian Government must join other Governments in condemning China's decision to stop Hong Kong directly electing its next leader, according to the Australian Democrats. Democrats Spokesperson on Foreign Affairs Senator Natasha Stott Despoja said the decision by the Standing Committee in Beijing was a slap in the face to the people of Hong Kong and their aspirations for democracy. The ruling goes against the deal China signed when former colony Hong Kong was returned to its motherland in 1997. "The people of Hong Kong place a very high value on their democratic rights, as we saw last year when half a million people marched against legislation which would have undermined those rights," Senator Stott Despoja said. "Already we are witnessing the beginning of a massive grassroots campaign against this latest threat. "Australia should support the people of Hong Kong in sending a strong message to the Chinese Government that its attempts to stifle democracy are entirely unacceptable. "Where is the voice of the Australian Government among those that have come out and opposed this decision?” US Consul-General James Keith has attacked the ruling as "an erosion of the high degree of autonomy" promised under Hong Kong's mini-constitution and the handover agreement negotiated by Britain and China. British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell will meet later today with the Chinese ambassador to relay Britain's concerns that Beijing had acted inconsistently with its handover promises. "While Australia's relationship with China is an important and strategic relationship, we must not be afraid to make our position clear on fundamental human rights issues such as this." Media Enquiries - Kate Griffith - 0417 085 260 SENATOR NATASHA STOTT DESPOJA


04/318 TUESDAY 27 APRIL 2004