European Union flag with fabric structure. Image: iStock
The European Union has been the main donor of Covid-19 vaccines. Image: iStock

The European Union on Tuesday agreed to limit exports to Hong Kong of equipment that could be used for surveillance and repression after Beijing imposed a controversial new security law. 

The bloc voiced “grave concern” over the new law, saying it would severely erode freedoms in Hong Kong that were supposed to be protected under the terms of its handover from Britain to China.

The EU has struggled to agree a united response to China. Member states are deeply divided over whether to stand up to Beijing – a hugely important trading partner – or to try to cooperate with it.

But following a proposal by France and Germany, the 27 member states on Tuesday agreed to limit exports to Hong Kong of technology that could be used for “internal repression, the interception of internal communications or cyber-surveillance.”

“The EU considers the national security legislation for Hong Kong… to be a matter of grave concern,” said a statement from the EU council, where all member states’ leaders have a seat.

“The EU is particularly concerned about the extensive erosion of rights and freedoms that were supposed to remain protected until at least 2047.”

Along with the export restriction, the EU will also bring in measures to support the population of the former British colony, granting visas, scholarships and academic exchanges to make it easier for them to travel to Europe, diplomats said. 

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said that with the new security law in place, “It makes sense to treat Hong Kong no differently from mainland China” when it comes to the export of equipment that can be used for repression.

Beijing on Tuesday announced the suspension of extradition treaties with Canada, Australia and Britain, following similar moves by those countries over the new law.

Hong Kong’s former colonial ruler Britain suspended its extradition treaty last week saying the security law had “significantly changed key assumptions” including a provision to try certain cases in mainland China.

Beijing insists the security law is needed to restore stability in the financial hub after prolonged political unrest.