Following a virtual meeting last month between Northern Ireland’s Prime Minister Arlene Foster and Chinese Consul General in Belfast Zhang Meifen, Chinese authorities said the minister “understands and accepts” the new security law. Foster was forced to refute the allegations, saying that her words were being misrepresented.
According to the South China Morning Post, the website of the Chinese Consulate in Ireland initially quoted Foster and her deputy, Michelle O’Neill, as saying they “understand and respect” Hong Kong’s new security law. The phrase was removed after local Irish Time reported it Tuesday, Aug. 11, but the earlier version was still available on the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s website.
Faced with this situation, Foster decided to issue a statement via Twitter saying: “My position on Hong Kong is the same as that of HMG. The article in today’s press misrepresents what was said at our meeting with the Chinese Consul General. I will be writing to Madame Zhang to underscore my disappointment.”
My position on Hong Kong is the same as that of HMG. The article in today’s press misrepresents what was said at our meeting with the Chinese Consul General. I will be writing to Madame Zhang to underscore my disappointment.
— Arlene Foster #We’llMeetAgain (@DUPleader) August 11, 2020
Vice Minister Michelle O’Neill, who was also involved in the Chinese Consulate’s statement, tweeted, “I made it very clear that I supported the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ international agreement.”
I made it very clear that I supported the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ international agreement.
— Michelle O’Neill (@moneillsf) August 11, 2020
It would have been a major domestic policy problem if Northern Ireland’s ministers really thought as Chinese diplomats described it, given that the leading British authorities were decisively critical in their stance on the new Hong Kong Security Act.
As recently as last month, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Hong Kong’s security legislation was a clear and serious violation of the 1984 UK-China Joint Declaration, violating the high degree of autonomy of the executive and legislative branches and the independent judiciary that had been agreed for Hong Kong.
Amnesty International Director for Northern Ireland Patrick Corrigan, called on the Northern Ireland Executive to publish the minutes of the meeting. “We need to hear a clear public condemnation from Arlene Foster and Michelle O’Neill of what the Chinese government [the CCP] is doing in Hong Kong and Xinjiang,” he said, as reported by the Irish Times.
The “misunderstanding” is the latest in a series of complaints in which European representatives accused Chinese diplomats of distorting their positions on official accounts.
In June, the European Union warned Chinese state media to stop what it called “selective” and “unacceptable” reporting of comments made by its top diplomat during a video meeting with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.
In May, the French government opposed a report in the Chinese state media that quoted Emmanuel Bonne, President Emmanuel Macron’s foreign policy adviser, as telling Wang that France would not “interfere” in Hong Kong’s affairs.