Hong Kong Chief Executive-elect John Lee speaks during a press conference at the Central Government Complex on May 9 2022 in Hong Kong, China.
Anthony Kwan—Getty Images
May 9, 2022 4:33 PM EDT

The foreign ministers of the Group of Seven most industrialized nations expressed “grave concern” over the process by which Hong Kong selected its next Chief Executive, calling it an assault on the fundamental freedoms of the former British colony that returned to Chinese control in 1997.

The G7 statement Monday came a day after John Lee, 64, a former police official who helped incumbent Chief Executive Carrie Lam crack down on massive and sometimes-violent democracy protests in 2019, was elected to the city’s top post in a near-unanimous ballot by a Beijing-controlled committee.

“The current nomination process and resulting appointment are a stark departure from the aim of universal suffrage and further erode the ability of Hong Kongers to be legitimately represented,” the group said in an emailed statement from the foreign ministry of Germany, which holds the rotating G7 presidency. “We are deeply concerned about this steady erosion of political and civil rights and Hong Kong’s autonomy.”

Lee received all but eight of the 1,424 valid votes cast by a committee of China loyalists in the uncontested race, in a demonstration of the impact of the election overhaul imposed by Beijing in the wake of mass protests about three years ago. In past contests, opposition candidates received hundreds of votes.

Read More: Hong Kong Leader Carrie Lam Won’t Seek a Second Term Amid City’s COVID-19 Crisis

The reaction of the foreign ministers of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the U.K. and the U.S. follows criticism by the European Union, which said Sunday that it “regrets this violation of democratic principles and political pluralism and sees this selection process as yet another step in the dismantling of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.”

Lee told reporters Monday that the election was conducted according to the laws of Hong Kong, which were “enacted because of what happened in the years of chaos.” Lee also helped Lam implement a powerful Beijing-drafted national security law that’s resulted in the arrest of some 182 people and the closing of at least a dozen news organizations.

“I think people are adopting a double standard,” he said, adding the “improved electoral system” has benefited the people of Hong Kong.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian accused the E.U. and other critics of the election of supporting “false democracy” and “rampant black violence” in the city. “The new Hong Kong government under the leadership of the new chief executive will lead the city from chaos to good governance,” Zhao told a regular briefing Monday in Beijing.

Lee, who will replace Lam on July 1, has vowed to further boltser national security and accelerate integration with mainland China. He said Sunday that his new job called for accountability to both Beijing and the city’s 7.4 million residents.

The G7 said authorities in China and Hong Kong have moved away from the “ultimate aim of universal suffrage” as set out in Hong Kong’s Basic Law by increasing the number of non-elected members appointed to the Election Committee and dramatically curtailing the number of voters eligible to participate in the committee elections.

The group called on China to abide by the Sino-British Joint Declaration and its other legal obligations.

“We urge the new chief executive to respect protected rights and freedoms in Hong Kong, as provided for in the Basic Law, and ensure the court system upholds the rule of law,” the G7 ministers said in the statement.

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