Nov. 12 (UPI) -- China condemned the resignation of opposition lawmakers in Hong Kong as "a farce" on Thursday, describing the protest as "a blatant challenge" to its authority over the former British colony.
On Wednesday, 15 pro-democracy Hong Kong lawmakers resigned in protest against the removal of four colleagues who were disqualified from office by a new law passed by the central government that rules out anyone from public service who has promoted independence or engaged in "unpatriotic" acts.
A spokesperson from the central government's Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office condemned the mass resignation in a statement on Thursday as a challenge to Beijing's authority and the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini constitution in which the principle of "one country, two systems" is enshrined that affords the region rights and freedoms the mainland does not enjoy.
The spokesman accused the legislators who resigned of slandering the National People's Congress and of using their positions "as a tool of political manipulation."
"This farce fully exposed the nature of some opposition lawmakers in disregarding the interests of the public for political self-interest, and once again demonstrated their stubborn stand against the central government," the statement said.
The spokesman defended the new law under which legislators Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki, Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung were unseated, stating public officials "must meet the statutory conditions and requirements, and offenders must bear legal responsibility."
"These measures are all aimed at maintaining the rule of law and the constitutional order of the [Hong Kong] Special Administration Region, and are conducive to the orderly operation of the legislature and social stability," the spokesman said.
The spokesman warned the opposition lawmakers against using the situation to reignite pro-democracy protests or to "beg for intervention from outside forces," saying the government is "unwavering."
The move is expected to further fray relations between the Asian nation and Western democracies with the United States and the European Union warning China that repercussions may follow.
In July following a year of pro-democracy protests that rocked Hong Kong, China implemented a widely condemned draconian national security law that criminalizes acts that are seen as threatening to China in the former British colony. Since its implementation, the law has been used to arrest people who chanted pro-Hong Kong independence songs and waved flags supporting the movement. Politicians and activists have also been charged under the new law.
Human rights groups see the expulsion of the legislators as a further whittling away of the remaining autonomy Hong Kong has left following the law's imposition.
U.S.-based Human Rights Watch described the move as a watershed moment that gives the Hong Kong government the ability to unseat anyone who it disagrees with, turning the semi-democratic Legislative Council "into a rubber-stamp body."
"Beijing is tearing down the last vestiges of its promise of democracy to the people in Hong Kong," Maya Wang, a senior China researcher for HRW, said in a statement. "Now that Beijing has removed even the veneer of democratic rule and autonomy from Hong Kong, other governments should respond with concrete measures."
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the expulsion of the pro-democracy lawmakers from the LegCo part of Beijing's "campaign to harass, stifle and disqualify democratic opposition."
"China's decision to arbitrarily remove elected pro-democracy Hong Kong legislators from their positions represents a further assault on Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy and freedoms under the U.K.-China Joint Declaration," he said in reference to the agreement that saw Hong Kong return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997.
On Thursday, Josep Borrell, the high representative of the European Union, demanded China reinstate four legislators and to repeal its new law.
In July, the EU agreed to a package of measures in support of the Hong Kong people, that include halting all negotiations with the Hong Kong government, reviewing members states' agreements and exports with the region, and encouraging encouraging scholarships and academic exchanges for Hong Kong students.
Borrell warned that the union is to meet again before the end of this year to discuss its measures.
"These latest developments will form part of the assessment," he said in a statement.
The United States has taken a harsh stance on China over its treatment of Hong Kong, sanctioning high-ranking government officials it holds responsible for degrading the autonomy of the former British colony -- moves that China has retaliated against with its own sanctions and threats against meddling in its internal affairs.
On Thursday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States will hold those responsible from trampling on Hong Kong's freedoms.
"Beijing has eliminated nearly all of Hong Kong's promised autonomy, as it neuters democratic processes and legal traditions that have been the bedrock of Hong Kong's stability and prosperity," he said in a statement. "Once again, the [Chinese Communist Party's] twisted vision of patriotism is a pretext to stifle freedom and the call for democracy."
Robert O'Brien, President Donald Trump's national security advisor, said the disqualification of the pro-democracy legislators leaves no doubt that the Chinese Communist Party "flagrantly violated" its commitments to the international community and to the people of Hong Kong.
He warned China in the statement on Wednesday that the United States will use all the powers at its disposal "to identify and sanction those responsible for extinguishing Hong Kong's freedom."