British government pledges "absolute" commitment to Sino-British Joint Declaration

British government pledges “absolute” and “unequivocal” commitment to its responsibilities under the Sino-British Joint Declaration to defend “one country, two systems”

British Members of Parliament discussed the threats to Hong Kong’s basic freedoms, the rule of law, democracy and autonomy in a debate in the House of Commons’ Westminster Hall yesterday, the first debate of its kind in almost two years. Responding to the debate, the Minister of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office responsible for Asia, Mark Field MP, said on behalf of the British government:

“If the people of Hong Kong and the watching world are to continue to have confidence in ‘one country, two systems’, it is vital that the high degree of autonomy and the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Basic Law and guaranteed under international law by the Joint Declaration are respected. We will not shy away from this. Let me make it clear. Ongoing commitment to these doctrines is not somehow ‘interference’ by the West in Chinese affairs. Maintaining confidence in ‘one country, two systems’ and the rule of law is crucial for Hong Kong and China’s own interests, including that city’s role as a financial hub for the Belt and Road initiative. Hong Kong’s economic system, which is uniquely trusted to bring huge new opportunities into China from all corners of the globe, will only flourish if the peoples enjoy the freedoms and safeguards that will ensure the promotion of their talents and enterprise.”

 Fiona Bruce

Fiona Bruce

The debate was introduced by Fiona Bruce MP, chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, who detailed in her opening speech the “dramatic signs” of the erosion of basic human rights in Hong Kong over the past four years, including: 

  • the abduction of the Causeway Bay booksellers,
  • the abduction of Chinese billionaire Xiao Jianhua from a Hong Kong hotel, the disqualification of elected pro-democracy legislators,
  • the imprisonment of political activists including Joshua Wong, Nathan Law, Alex Chow and others,
  • threats to press freedom and academic freedom,
  • the changes to procedural rules in the Legislative Council further undermining Hong Kong’s limited democracy,
  • the law criminalising disrespect of the national anthem,
  • the decision by China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee to introduce mainland Chinese law in the West Kowloon high-speed railway station in Hong Kong,
  • the recent report by the former leader of the Liberal Democrats Lord (Paddy) Ashdown following his recent visit to Hong Kong,
  • and the decision to refuse entry to Hong Kong to British human rights activist Benedict Rogers, a co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch.

She particularly highlighted the new abduction of bookseller Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen and Hong Kong resident, who has been held in China for more than two years but was reportedly released from prison in October 2017. She referred to the news this week that he had been abducted again, in the full view of Swedish diplomats:

“I pause for a moment to put on record that, whilst four of the five book sellers were over the following months, released, two years on, the fate of one, Gui Minhai - a Swedish citizen - remains unclear, having been denied access to legal counsel nor officially charged or tried. Dramatically this week the New York Times has reported that he was snatched from a train bound for Beijing, apparently by plain clothed Chinese police on Saturday. What steps has the United Kingdom taken to raise this case and urge the Chinese authorities to allow him to leave China and reunite him with his family, including his daughter Angela who studies in Cambridge, who I’ve met and who campaigns valiantly for her father’s release.”

Other MPs who spoke in the debate included the former Labour Shadow Foreign Minister and a Patron of Hong Kong Watch, Catherine West MP, the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on China Richard Graham MP, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) MPs Sammy Wilson and Jim Shannon, Conservative MP Colin Clark, the Scottish Nationalist Party spokesman Peter Grant MP, and the Opposition Shadow Foreign Minister, Labour MP Helen Goodman.

The debate will be followed tomorrow by an oral question on Hong Kong in the House of Lords by Lord Ashdown, who recently visited Hong Kong.

Benedict Rogers, Chairman of the Trustees at Hong Kong Watch said: “This was a timely and important debate about Hong Kong. Timely because of the tragic news yesterday that Gui Minhai was forcibly disappeared for the second time, and because last week Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, attacked Lord Ashdown, and the organisation of which he is a patron and I am a founder, Hong Kong Watch, for “foreign meddling”. Long overdue, because for the past twelve months Hong Kong’s freedoms, the rule of law and autonomy have come under unprecedented assault. It is surprising that last year, when we marked the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong, there was no parliamentary debate but I am glad that Parliament is now giving this subject greater attention, recognizing its importance. We welcome the reassurances that the Minister offered about the United Kingdom’s commitment to its responsibilities under the Joint Declaration and its continued support for ‘one country, two systems’ and we hope this will result in further meaningful action in the months ahead to ensure that Hong Kong’s basic freedoms, the rule of law and autonomy are protected.”

Note to Editors

The full debate is available in transcript here: http://hansard.parliament.uk/commons/2018-01-23 and can be viewed here: http://parliamentlive.tv/Event/Index/a5e673cc-8783-471c-b545-7d91ac8aa8dc

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