Sir Malcolm Rifkind, Paddy Ashdown and other prominent figures urge Jeremy Hunt to raise Hong Kong in China visit

Jeremy Hunt; Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Jeremy Hunt; Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

A cross-party group of British politicians, including the former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind and former leader of the Liberal Democrats Lord Ashdown, have written to the new British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt calling on him to raise the situation in Hong Kong with Chinese leaders during his visit to China next week. Jeremy Hunt will participate in the UK-China Strategic Dialogue in Beijing on 30 July.

The letter underlines the importance of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and expresses concerns that “pressure on human rights and basic freedoms in Hong Kong has increased and intensified”.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind and Lord Ashdown are joined as signatories to the letter by Labour MP Catherine West, crossbench peer Lord Alton of Liverpool, and leading international barrister Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, who was chief prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.

In the letter, the five signatories said: “The United Kingdom has a unique relationship with Hong Kong due to the Sino-British Joint Declaration. This agreement underpins the special trading relationship that the United Kingdom has with Hong Kong because ‘one-country, two-systems’ ensures that it has the robust rule of law, freedom of information, labour rights, intellectual property rights, and transparency which our businesses need. It is also an important example in the region of a city where basic human rights are upheld to the benefit of all.”

The five signatories are patrons of Hong Kong Watch. They outlined concerns that freedom of expression was under threat and the judiciary under pressure.   

“Freedom of expression is facing threats from multiple fronts, with the abduction of booksellers, the removal of academics from their posts, the imprisonment of pro-democracy protesters, the disqualification of pro-democracy legislators and candidates for the legislature, and last week, the threat that a political party faced being banned on the grounds that it was a ‘national security threat’,” they said.

They continued: “The judiciary is also under pressure. The former Court of Final Appeal Judge, Kemal Bokhary, has warned that Hong Kong’s courts are facing a ‘storm of unprecedented ferocity’ while other judges have said that the increasing use of interpretative powers by Beijing could compromise Hong Kong’s rule of law. Britain’s businesses pick Hong Kong because it has a robust, independent judiciary. It is vital that the mainland government understand the importance of non-interference in Hong Kong’s courts, so that Hong Kong continues to maintain its status as ‘Asia’s World City’.”

On other issues, the letter welcomed Mr Hunt’s attempt to strengthen the United Kingdom’s relationship with China in economic, security and environmental matters, saying that “collaboration is vital if we are to confront the international threats posed by terrorism and climate change. China’s resources and expertise will be essential if we are to tackle the grave threat posed by rising sea levels and air pollution around the world.”