OPEN LETTER: UK politicians and lawyers call on new Foreign Secretary to include a human rights clause in any UK-HK trade agreement
Open letter to the Dominic Raab, the new Foreign Secretary on Hong Kong
Dear Foreign Secretary,
We are writing as patrons of Hong Kong Watch to urge you to stand up for people in Hong Kong during your tenure.
Since the Occupy Protests of 2014, there has been an unprecedented deterioration in the human rights situation in Hong Kong. Booksellers who were selling books critical of the mainland Chinese government have been abducted; scores political activists have faced disproportionate prison sentences for their roles in peaceful protests; a political party has been banned; and legally elected lawmakers have been barred from taking their seats following a process that was effectively political screening. Last year, the Financial Times’ Asia Editor was denied a working visa after he hosted a controversial talk in his capacity as Vice President of the Foreign Correspondent’s Club.
The cumulative effect of these actions has left Hong Kong’s political situation on a knife-edge, as trust in the government has collapsed. The Hong Kong Government’s attempt to fast track an extradition bill which would have compromised the integrity of the city’s legal system has awakened a latent anger in the population and led to enormous, wide-scale protests. Hong Kong University polling shows that trust in the police force and the government is at a record low after police violence, and government refusals to accede to the demands of protestors is furthering polarisation. Young people who say they feel disenfranchised are taking to the streets, claiming they “have no other option”.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration provides the United Kingdom with a moral and legal obligation, under international law, to continue to stand with the people of Hong Kong. The United Kingdom entered the handover agreement on the basis that the rights and freedoms of Hong Kong’s people would remain unchanged for fifty years after the handover. Jeremy Hunt recently said that the United Kingdom stand ‘foursquare’ behind the people of Hong Kong. We hope you will take a similarly robust approach by seeking to raise Hong Kong publicly, and in bilateral meetings with China, and by ensuring that any UK-Hong Kong future bilateral trade agreement includes a human rights clause which references the Sino-British Joint Declaration and one-country, two-systems.
There are commercial reasons that advocating for the maintenance of the one-country, two-systems principle is a sensible option. Hong Kong is one of Asia’s two financial hubs. Business leaders are clear that its robust rule of law, press freedom, property rights, freedom of information and capital flows underpin this. These are only possible because of the one-country, two-systems principle.
The rest of the world looks to the UK, as co-signatories of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, to take a leading role in diplomacy relating to Hong Kong. We therefore call on you, as Foreign Secretary, to make Hong Kong a priority, and to work with like-minded governments to ensure that the people of Hong Kong’s treasured freedoms are not compromised.
Sir Malcolm Rifkind QC, Former Foreign Secretary
Catherine West MP, Member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, Labour
Fiona Bruce MP, Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission
Lord Alton of Liverpool, Crossbench
Alistair Carmichael MP, Liberal Democrats
Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Formerly Lead Prosecutor in the trial of Slobodan Milosevic