The US secretary of state has caused confusion by deleting a post critical of Hong Kong’s unseating of opposition council members and issuing a milder remark instead. A department spokesperson stuck to the original wording.

This week, seven opposition district councillors in Hong Kong were unseated after a deadline expired for them to submit information proving that they were sincere when they swore oaths as public servants. Washington criticized Beijing over the development, but key officials in the US Department of State apparently can’t find common ground on what the message to the Chinese government should be.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s Twitter account initially posted a remark, calling on Beijing to “let the voices of all Hong Kongers be heard.” He said the disqualifications weaken the autonomous city’s long-term stability, adding: “We stand with the people of Hong Kong & continue to support their human rights & fundamental freedoms.” The tweet was later deleted and a milder statement along the same lines was posted about a day later.

Deleted version

Blinken’s original message was shared by Department of State spokesman Ned Price. It was reposted by Price’s account after Blinken’s tweet was taken down.

The seven district council members were disqualified after the oaths they swore on Friday last week were deemed invalid. A total of 24 politicians took part in the ceremony, roughly half of them from the opposition camp. One politician scheduled to appear skipped the event and was unseated because of it.

An oath of allegiance was previously necessary only for senior officials in Hong Kong. Earlier this year, the requirement was expanded to a larger number of offices, including district councillors, in line with last year’s controversial Chinese national security law. If a person is suspected of making an insincere pledge, they can be removed from office.

According to local media, the seven district council members were likely targeted for their participation in the July 2020 opposition primary election before the since-postponed general election. Opposition candidates wanted to capitalize on anti-government protests that were taking place in Hong Kong at the time, and take control of the city legislature. They didn’t hide their intention to then paralyze the work of government by refusing to approve the budget, until the executive concedes to protesters’ demands.

Beijing perceived it as an attempt at a soft coup. Earlier this year, dozens of participants were prosecuted under the national security law, which came into force weeks before the primary. Opposition activists and their international backers, including the US, consider it part of a crackdown on Hong Kong civil liberties by Beijing. The Chinese government calls it a legitimate pushback against attempts by foreign powers to meddle in its domestic affairs.

The disqualified council members “stood on the side of anti-China, destabilizing forces in Hong Kong and interfered in Hong Kong affairs and China’s internal affairs as a whole,” a statement by the Hong Kong office of the Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday, responding to criticism from overseas.

It is “sheer hypocrisy” and a “double standard” on the part of the US to “vilify” the Chinese requirement for public servants to swear an oath, considering similar policies are in place in America, the statement added.

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