UK government statement says UK Foreign Secretary raised concerns directly with Carrie Lam, and that UK refused export license to send riot shields to Hong Kong in April

On Thursday 13 June 2019, the House of Commons met for a debate on Hong Kong’s extradition law. During the debate, Mark Field, the UK Government Minister for Asia refuted the Chinese Ambassador’s claim that the joint declaration was a ‘historic document’, said that the UK Foreign Secretary had raised concerns directly with Carrie Lam, and underlined that the United Kingdom government rejected a Hong Kong government export licence for riot shields in April 2019.

The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry MP, said that the Government’s actions in recent years has not been strong enough, and Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael raised serious concerns about the levels of police violence.

This was the sixth time the extradition law was debated in the UK Parliament this week, after it was raised in an urgent question and adjournment debate in the House of Commons on Monday, an urgent question in the House of Lords on Tuesday, as well as a topical question in the House of Lords and Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

In his opening statement on the events overnight, Mark Field called for “calm and considered dialogue”. He said that it was “imperative not only that any protests are conducted in a peaceful manner, but that the authorities’ response is proportionate.”

He emphasised that “it is important to recognise the unprecedented and overwhelmingly peaceful expression of public opposition that we saw at the march on 9 June, with families, church groups, business owners and professional associations all well represented. This was one of the largest single demonstrations of public concern in Hong Kong since the handover in July 1997.”

He continued: “As the Foreign Secretary made clear in his statement yesterday, we urge the Hong Kong Government, even at this late stage, to heed those concerns and to engage in meaningful dialogue with local and international stakeholders. Now is surely the time to pause to reflect upon the impact of these controversial proposals. It is vital that the measures are subject to full legislative scrutiny and that the Hong Kong Government give proper consideration to all alternative proposals.”

He underlined that, alongside his public statement, the Foreign Secretary had made his concerns clear “directly to the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam.”

In response to the Chinese ambassador’s statement on Newsnight, Mr Field said: “I note that the Chinese ambassador to London commented on the BBC’s “Newsnight” programme last night that the joint declaration is, as he put it, an “historic document” that has “completed its mission”. Once again I strongly disagree. The joint declaration remains as valid today as it was when it was signed over 35 years ago. That joint declaration is a legally binding international treaty, registered with the United Nations. Its objectives clearly apply to both of its signatories—the Government of the People’s Republic of China and the UK. It remains in force, and it remains acutely relevant to the conduct of day-to-day life in Hong Kong. We expect China to abide by its obligations.”

He concluded: “I once again call on the Hong Kong Government to pause, to reflect and to take meaningful steps to address the concerns of the people, businesses, the legal professionals, judges and the international community about the proposed changes to the extradition law. We must, and we shall, continue to press them so to do.” 

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP who called Monday’s adjournment debate, challenged the Minister about police violence. He said:

“Yesterday a young Hong Kong woman came to my office and showed me pictures of what had happened to friends of hers who had been protesting in Hong Kong. She showed me videos of tear gas being used and the injuries they had sustained as a result of rubber bullets being used. These things happen because the authorities that employ these methods think they can get away with it. She understood, as I think we should all understand, that the joint declaration is now under attack not just from the People’s Republic of China but from Carrie Lam’s Administration in Hong Kong itself.”

He continued: “The legislation proposed by Carrie Lam’s Government is a fundamental attack on these human rights, and if we are to stand by the joint declaration we should be opposing these changes unambiguously and vigorously at every turn. I have to say to the Minister that it is not good enough to hide behind a question of legal construction when this is actually about our political determination.”

Mark Field replied by highlighting a point about export licenses: “The right hon. Gentleman touched on the use of tear gas and rubber bullets, and I would therefore like to talk a bit about export licences; I know this has been brought up in the pages of The Guardian today. The last export licence from the UK for tear gas hand grenades and tear gas cartridges used for training purposes by the Hong Kong police was in July 2018. The last export licence for rubber bullets was in July 2015. We rejected an open licence for riot shields as recently as April 2019. The issue of export licences is close to all our hearts, and it comes up time and again in our work overseas. We are monitoring the situation very closely and will of course undertake to review all current export licences. We will have no qualms in revoking any licences found no longer to be consistent with the consolidated criteria, including criterion 2, which I think the right hon. Gentleman will be aware of, dealing with respect for human rights.”

The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry strongly critiqued the government’s recent inaction. She said: “The big question today is, what are the UK Government prepared to do to demand that the Chinese authorities go back to the commitments that they made in the 1984 statement? As the Minister of State has said, the Chinese ambassador said last night that that is an historic document. But, you know, the Chinese have been saying that for two years. Two years ago they said it was an historical document which had no “practical significance” and was “not binding”. I agree with the Minister of State when he condemns those comments, but we have to ask, is it any wonder that the Chinese are so dismissive of the joint agreement, and prepared to commit flagrant breaches of it, if we as a country are not prepared to protest when they do so? Let me make it clear: I mean that not as a personal criticism of the Minister of State, but as a general indictment of the Government’s approach over recent years, which has not been as clear and robust as just set out by the Minister of State.”

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