FCO Six-monthly report on Hong Kong: Weak conclusion distracts from serious abuses of ‘one-country, two systems’ – UK must act now
The conclusion in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO)’s six-monthly report on Hong Kong that ‘one-country, two-systems is functioning well’ is misplaced, and it is Hong Kong Watch’s view that the facts detailed in the FCO’s report require further action by the United Kingdom.
The events that the FCO have detailed in the report constitute a variety of abuses of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and of the high degree of autonomy promised for Hong Kong under ‘one-country, two-systems’. The robust action taken in response to the decision, on the orders of the Chinese regime, to refuse entry to Hong Kong to British human rights activist Benedict Rogers should have been applied in many of the cases which took place in between July and December 2017. Hong Kong Watch urges the British government to take further diplomatic action to highlight its concerns and protect ‘one country, two systems’, if the situation continues to worsen, particularly with the likely implementation of the anti-subversion law known as Article 23.
The FCO six-monthly report on Hong Kong covers many of the most important issues in the last six-months in Hong Kong, and provides a helpful reference detailing the marked deterioration in the territory. However, the UK government’s analysis of some issues is inadequate, and weaker than the assessment made by the European Parliament in December 2017, which expressly ‘condemned the constant interference of the PRC in Hong Kong’s internal affairs, which may put at risk the long-term viability of the ‘one country, two systems’ model’.’
Evaluation of the report
The report provides description of the major events between July and December 2017 including the proposed introduction of mainland law at the West Kowloon Rail Terminus; the jailing of pro-democracy activists; the denial of entry into Hong Kong of British activist Benedict Rogers, Hong Kong Watch’s co-founder and chair of trustees; the proposal to implement Article 23 and the National Anthem Law; the disqualification of lawmakers; attacks on freedom of expression and freedom of the press; rule changes in the Legislative Council; and the ongoing illegal detention of Gui Minhai.
The West Kowloon Rail Terminus
The report’s coverage of the proposed co-location of the West Kowloon Rail Terminus deserves praise. The report highlights the Hong Kong Bar Association’s statement on 28 December 2017 that the decision represents “the most retrograde step to date in the implementation of the Basic Law”, and subsequently the Foreign Office urge “the Chinese and Hong Kong SAR Governments to ensure that the established constitutional framework for any change to the Basic Law is respected to ensure continued confidence in ‘One Country, Two Systems’.” This shows that the UK government clearly understand the potential severity of the co-location arrangement. Should the implementation of co-location be in breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, then the United Kingdom should act.
The report describes the Civic Square case of Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow in detail, as well as referencing other cases including the Mong Kok protest site clearance. The UK government state that ‘The UK remains a staunch supporter of the right to peaceful protest and we believe it is vital that Hong Kong’s young people have a voice in politics… we hope the decision on this case will not discourage legitimate protest in the future.’ This is a positive statement, and the UK government should continue to monitor the many cases of political prosecution under the Public Order Ordinance, a law which the United Nations has criticised for violating the right to freedom of assembly.
Benedict Rogers’ denial of entry
The report’s consideration of the denial of entry into Hong Kong to Benedict Rogers is also thorough and helpful, reflecting the robust response by the UK Government to Benedict Rogers’ case. In a powerful conclusion to the section, the report states that: ‘international confidence in Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy will be undermined if individuals who lawfully express their political views are denied entry to Hong Kong under pressure from the Chinese authorities.’
Considering the strength of the government’s statement about Benedict Rogers’ case, it is striking that so little attention was given to Article 23. In November, Li Fei, Basic Law Committee Chair and Deputy Secretary General of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), addressed a seminar marking the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the Hong Kong SAR. He concluded by stating that Hong Kong has a ‘duty to accurately and fully implement Article 23,’ and his calls are part of a growing chorus from the Chinese government to enact Article 23.
The report fails to mention that Article 23 could, if enacted rigidly, include a prohibition of ‘foreign political organisations or bodies from conducting political activities in the Region’. It also fails to mention that Article 23 drew one million protestors to the street because of its vague and overly repressive scope when it was last proposed in 2003. The law could not only impact human rights in Hong Kong but could also lead to an erosion of rule of law and the status of foreign companies and businesses in Hong Kong. We hope that the UK government will take this threat seriously in the coming year by making an active effort through diplomacy and other channels to ensure that any new National Security Legislation conforms to international human rights norms.
The National Anthem Law
Concerning the proposed National Anthem Law, the UK government provided a thorough description of the events in the reporting period, but failed to mention the consequences of the law – that Hong Kongers who boo the national anthem could be imprisoned for up to three years, which is in clear breach of Article 3 (5) of the Sino-British Joint Declaration which guarantees freedom of expression.
The disqualification of lawmakers
On the disqualification of lawmakers, the FCO note that ‘the former Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung said that he believed Beijing’s decision to interpret Article 104 [covering the taking of oaths by senior officials and the judiciary] of the Basic Law in late 2016 was “strongly politically motivated”’. The FCO do not, however, set their own view out in the report.
The view set out by the former Secretary for Justice Wong Yan-lung is accurate. Furthermore, the Chinese government’s Interpretation of Article 104 of Basic Law, which led to the disqualifications, is an illegal infringement which undermines one-country, two-systems, and violates rights enshrined in Hong Kong’s constitution, including freedom of speech and the right to stand in election. You can read Hong Kong Watch’s report on this topic here, where we argue that the situation merits a more robust response from the UK government.
Press Freedom and booksellers
The report includes a helpful description of incidents of the erosion of press freedom, and commentary on the abduction of Gui Minhai, but no evaluative comment from the FCO. Given that Article 3 (5) of the Sino-British Joint Declaration guarantees freedom of the press and freedom of expression, the FCO should raise these issues with the Hong Kong government.
Gui Minhai was recently forcibly disappeared again in mainland China. The United Kingdom government should continue to vocally raise his case as it is unacceptable for a Swedish citizen who was living in Hong Kong to have been abducted for expressing his political views.
Some elements of this report, from its detailed reporting to its robust response to co-location and Benedict Rogers’ case provide a very helpful contribution, which Hong Kong Watch welcomes. In other areas, including controversial issues such as Article 23 or the disqualification of lawmakers, the UK government fail to take a stance on important issues and is weaker than the European Parliament’s contribution in December.
The UK government are right to say that ‘for Hong Kong’s future success, it is essential that Hong Kong enjoys, and is seen to enjoy, the full measure of its high degree of autonomy, rule of law, independence of the judiciary, and rights and freedoms as set out in the Joint Declaration and enshrined in the Basic Law, in keeping with the commitment to ‘One Country, Two Systems’.’ The UK government have stated in the report that ‘one-country, two-systems’ is under pressure. If the situation continues to worsen, the UK government should take further diplomatic action to safeguard ‘one-country, two-systems.’