European Commissioner-designate for a Stronger Europe in the World Josep Borrell Fontelles of Spain speaks during his hearing before the European Parliament in Brussels, Belgium October 7, 2019. REUTERS
EU countries agreed Monday to consider limiting exports of equipment that could be used for political repression to Hong Kong in response to a national security law imposed by Beijing.
The 27 EU members will also re-examine extradition agreements with Hong Kong as well as visa arrangements after the imposition of the law, which has been criticised as placing severe curbs on the financial hub's relative freedoms.
EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said the final version of the law was "more draconian than expected" and the bloc's foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels for talks, agreed to work on a coordinated European response.
"Our message in this context is twofold. First, to the people in Hong Kong, the support of European Union for their autonomy and fundamental freedom -- we will continue to stand by the people of Hong Kong," Borrell said after the meeting.
"And to China the message is that the recent actions change the rules, they will require a revision of our approach and will clearly have an impact on our relations."
EU countries will look at restricting the transfer of "dual use" goods, which can be used for political repression, as well as considering making it easier for Hong Kongers to get visas to the bloc.
Former colonial ruler Britain has already announced plans to grant expanded immigration rights to some three million Hong Kongers -- much to Beijing's annoyance.
Much of the action under consideration will be for national governments rather than the EU to decide upon, but Borrell insisted that it would be coordinated across the bloc.
Beijing says the security law is needed to restore stability to Hong Kong after months of protests and the city's leader has vowed to enforce it "vigorously". Critics warn the law criminalises many peaceful dissenting opinions.
Germany and France suggested the joint EU action, and Berlin's foreign minister Heiko Maas said the security law meant the status quo could not continue.
"We are also determined to follow words with deeds," Maas said.
"If the security law is applied in Hong Kong, it will have to have very concrete effects on questions of arms exports, dual use goods, and we will also have to ask ourselves how extradition agreements and mutual legal assistance agreements can be further dealt with under the circumstances."
But, for now, the EU is not considering sanctions on China over the Hong Kong controversy, and the bloc is deeply divided over how tough a line to take with an important trading partner.