As China Cracks Down on Hong Kong’s Freedoms, Britain Cannot Stand Idly By

We have approached the 20th anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to the People’s Republic of China (PRC), yet few in Britain are aware of the dire situation in its former colony. Memories appear to be short and only a handful of Westminster politicians regularly raise concerns about the crackdowns on freedoms in Hong Kong. Now it’s time for Parliament to wake up and fulfil our obligations to Hong Kongers.

The question of Britain’s right to speak out on matters relating to Hong Kong is clear cut. The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, is a legally-binding international agreement. It promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy after it was handed to the mainland in 1997. This established Hong Kong as a Special Administrative Region (SAR) of the PRC and established the principle of ’One-Country Two-Systems’ until 2047.

Essentially, this arrangement sought to preserve the freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kongers and the capitalist system which had developed while the territory was under British rule. More importantly, it sought assurances that steps would be made towards universal suffrage and the election of a Chief Executive.

Beijing no longer appear to be trying to hide its crack downs on freedom of speech

Sadly, little to no progress has been made in this regard since Hong Kong was handed to Beijing. The process of electing the SAR’s new Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, would not be regarded in the West as anything close to democratic. Once again the people of Hong Kong, many of whom vote for pro-democracy candidates in Legislative Council elections, are saddled with a leader selected by a small committee which is stacked with pro-Beijing loyalists.

Since the appointment of Lam as the next chief executive, the Hong Kong government has arrested key figures from the 2014 pro-democracy protests. Such news is a sign of darker things to come.

The principles of One-Country Two-Systems, and Hong Kongers’ faith in this system, has been increasingly deteriorating. The most flagrant violation occurred in late 2014 when five Hong Kong based booksellers disappeared only to reappear on the mainland. One, Lee Bo, was a British passport holder. Another Gui Minhai, a Swedish citizen, was abducted from his home in Thailand. Beijing no longer appear to be trying to hide its crack downs on freedom of speech as its pervasive reach chokes Hong Kong and its neighbours.

Pro-democracy campaigners Joshua Wong and Nathan Law have both experienced intimidation from Beijing’s lackys in the territory and while travelling abroad. They are not alone: the threat of the mainland and its ‘invisible hand’ meddling in the SAR have effectively dampened Hong Kong’s once vibrant press and judiciary.

The media is not as outspoken as it used to be. Since 2002, Hong Kong has plummeted in Reporters Without Borders global press freedom rankings largely because of Beijing’s pressure on editors, increased intimidation faced by journalists and the purchase of Hong Kong media by Chinese internet companies.

While editors and reporters feel the pressure so too do judges. A fact which may be critical in the trial of several outspoken Hong Kong Legislatures who, thanks to the not-so-invisible hand of Beijing, are threatened with being thrown out of office for failing to take their oaths properly.

Theresa May, like her predecessor, appears all too happy to kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party

All of this should be setting off alarm bells in Westminster.

Yet the Chinese Communist Party falsely claims that the future of Hong Kong is a matter for them alone and that Britain’s obligation to uphold the Sino-British Joint Declaration ceased to apply after 1997.

Beijing bemoans the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s six monthly reports on Hong Kong and even denied entry into the SAR for members of the House of Commons' Foreign Affairs Select Committee in 2014. This unprecedented decision was made on the grounds that this group of MPs had no right to launch an investigation into Hong Kong after the Umbrella Movement protests.

While the Government stood alongside the British parliamentarians in this case, in other circumstances they have all too often turned a blind eye to Beijing’s tightening grip over Hong Kong.

Theresa May, like her predecessor, appears all too happy to kowtow to the Chinese Communist Party in order to secure a ‘Golden Era’ of trading relations between the UK and the PRC.

Yet deterioration of Hong Kong’s freedoms over the past 20 years should be a wakeup call.

The time for quiet diplomacy has ended. Now Britain must use its voice on the world stage to speak up for Hong Kongers who are fighting for freedom and democracy. If they do not, then they will be letting down yet another generation of Hong Kongers.

 Gray Sergeant

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