I would like to update the House on the situation in Hong Kong. As all Members will know, Hong Kong’s historic success was built on its autonomy, its freedoms and the remarkable resourcefulness and determination of its people. We have long admired their prosperity and their values, respected through China’s own expression of the one country, two systems approach—an approach that China itself has long articulated and affirmed as the basis for its relations with Hong Kong. The UK, through successive Governments, has consistently respected and supported that model, as reflected both in China’s Basic Law and also the joint declaration, which, as Members will know, is the treaty agreed by the United Kingdom and China, registered with the United Nations, as part of the arrangements for the handover of Hong Kong that were made back in 1984.
Set against this Chinese framework and the historical context, on 22 May, during a meeting of the National People’s Congress, China considered a proposal for a national security law for Hong Kong, and then on 28 May the National People’s Congress adopted that decision. China’s Foreign Minister, State Councillor Wang Yi, made it clear that the legislation will seek to ban treason, secession, sedition and subversion, and we expect it to be published in full shortly.
This proposed national security law undermines the one country, two systems framework that I have described, under which Hong Kong is guaranteed a high degree of autonomy with Executive, legislative and independent judicial powers. To be very clear and specific about this, the imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the Government in Beijing, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions, lies in direct conflict with article 23 of China’s own Basic Law and with China’s international obligations freely assumed under the joint declaration. The Basic Law is clear that there are only a limited number of areas in which Beijing can impose laws directly, such as for the purposes of defence and foreign affairs, or in exceptional circumstances in which the National People’s Congress declares a state of war or a state of emergency.
The proposed national security law, as it has been described, in terms of the substance and detail, raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, which would undermine the existing commitments to protect the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, as set out in the joint declaration, but also reflecting the international covenant on civil and political rights. Finally, the proposals also include provision for the authorities in Hong Kong to report back to Beijing on progress in pursuing national security education of its people—a truly sobering prospect.
We have not yet seen the detailed published text of the legislation, but I can tell the House that if legislation in those terms is imposed by China on Hong Kong, it would violate China’s own Basic Law. It would upend China’s one country, two systems paradigm, and it would be a clear violation of China’s international obligations, including those made specifically to the United Kingdom under the joint declaration.
Let me be clear about the approach that the United Kingdom intends to take. We do not oppose Hong Kong passing its own national security law. We do strongly oppose such an authoritarian law being opposed by China, in breach of international law. We are not seeking to intervene in China’s internal affairs, only to hold China to its international commitments, just as China expects of the United Kingdom. We do not seek to prevent China’s rise—far from it. We welcome China as a leading member of the international community, and we look to engage with China on everything from trade to climate change. It is precisely because we recognise China’s role in the world that we expect it to live up to the international obligations and the international responsibilities that come with it.
On Thursday, working closely with our partners in Australia, Canada and the United States, the UK released a joint statement expressing our deep concerns over this proposed new security legislation. Our partners in New Zealand and Japan have issued similar statements. The EU has too, and I have had discussions with a number of our EU partners. The UK stands firm with our international partners in our expectation that China lives up to its international obligations under the Sino-British joint declaration.
There is time for China to reconsider. There is a moment for China to step back from the brink and respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and respect China’s own international obligations. We urge the Government of China to work with the people of Hong Kong and with the Hong Kong Government to end the recent violence and to resolve the underlying tensions based on political dialogue. If China continues down this current path, if it enacts this national security law, we will consider what further response we make working with those international partners and others.
I hope the whole House agrees that we, as the United Kingdom, have historical responsibilities—a duty I would say—to the people of Hong Kong. I can tell the House now that if China enacts the law, we will change the arrangements for British National (Overseas) passport holders in Hong Kong. The House will recall that the BNO status was conferred on British dependent territories’ citizens connected with Hong Kong as part of the package of arrangements that accompanied the joint declaration in 1984 in preparation for the handover of the territory. Under that status currently, BNO passport holders are already entitled to UK consular assistance in third countries. The British Government also provide people with BNO passports visa-free entry into the UK for up to six months as visitors.
If China follows through with its proposed legislation, we will put in place new arrangements to allow BNOs to come to the UK without the current six-month limit, enabling them to live and apply to study and work for extendable periods of 12 months, thereby also providing a pathway to citizenship.
Let me just finish by saying that, even at this stage, I sincerely hope that China will reconsider its approach, but if it does not the UK will not just look the other way when it comes to the people of Hong Kong; we will stand by them and live up to our responsibilities. I commend this statement to the House.
I shall now call the shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, who has up to five minutes to reply.
I thank the Foreign Secretary for coming to the House to make this statement and for advance sight of it. In particular, I thank him for the sentiment of solidarity that he expressed at the end of his statement.
We are deeply concerned about events in Hong Kong. We share the Government’s opposition to the national security law. We want to see real action to address police brutality and the steady erosion of the joint declaration. We want the people of Hong Kong to know that the world is watching. We also want them to know that the world is prepared to act. Can I press the Foreign Secretary for more clarity on BNO passport holders? We welcome the announcement that visa rights will be extended. He says that they will be able to come to the UK if China continues down this path and implements this legislation. Will he tell us at which stage he envisages our taking action? When will these measures be brought before the House? I also ask him for more details about how this will apply. Will it apply to the 350,000 people who hold valid passports, or to the 2.9 million who are eligible? For this to be meaningful, surely it has to apply to people’s families. Will he confirm whether this is the Government’s intention, and what assessment he has done of the numbers?
The first rule of any sanction against China must surely be that it does not harm the people of Hong Kong. Will he tell us what assessment he has made of the potential loss of millions of highly skilled people from Hong Kong; and what assessment he has done of the USA’s recent announcement, which I understand he supports, that Hong Kong is no longer autonomous? Will he therefore support the withdrawal of trade preferences and economic sanctions? There are implications for China and, of course, implications for the UK, but there are also serious implications for the people of Hong Kong, many of whom he does not appear to be offering safe haven to. What impact does he believe that that will have on them?
We have been asking for concrete steps, and I welcome the fact that the Government are now signalling that they are prepared to take these, but the joint declaration has been repeatedly undermined since 2012. As the former Governor of Hong Kong put it, that has been met with only “tut-tutting” and “embarrassed clearing of the throat” from UK Ministers. Why has the Foreign Secretary not pressed for an independent inquiry into police brutality? Given the serious implications for human rights, does he welcome, as we do, the suggestion by former Foreign Secretaries that an international contact group should be established? He knows that the only long-term solution to this is universal suffrage. We must see pressure from Britain on the Hong Kong authorities to begin the process of democratic reform.
I was astonished that, in his statement, the Foreign Secretary did not address how the UK intends to respond to the threat of countermeasures by China. It is increasingly clear that we need an alliance of democracies to ensure that we can maintain, as he says, a constructive dialogue with China on shared challenges, not least on climate change, while standing up to aggressive behaviour and clear breaches of international law. He referenced the statements by the UK, Australia, Canada and the US, which was welcome, and the additional statements from New Zealand, Japan and the European Union. It is time for an international democratic alliance to come together and speak with one voice. The G7 is now off. The G20 is not meeting. The discussion at the UN Security Council has been blocked by China. It is time for Britain to be far more proactive. In recent weeks, Australia has shown real leadership on the search for a vaccine for covid-19 and France has led the charge for a global ceasefire. On this of all issues, why is Britain not stepping up and showing the leadership the world needs?
Finally, I am concerned that this exposes some serious, deep contradictions in the Government’s approach to China. For a decade, we have been told that we are in a “golden era” of Sino-British relations, whereas the right hon. Gentleman has said that we cannot go back to “business as usual” with China. What does any of this mean in practice? The Government have finally accepted that there are concerns about the threat the Huawei contract poses to national security and are reportedly working with other countries to explore an alternative, but will he rule out Chinese involvement in any new nuclear projects beyond Hinkley? With a long and deep recession likely, the need for a coherent approach is only becoming more urgent. We do not have a strategy abroad. We do not have a strategy at home. This needs a calm and sensible approach, to maintain a constructive dialogue and build far greater strategic independence; the two are not contradictory but go hand in hand. Now is the moment that Britain must step up, show global leadership and begin to take this seriously.
I thank the hon. Lady for her solidarity and support, as expressed at the commencement of her remarks. She asked about the trigger point for changes. It is only right, in order to do this in a very careful and accurate way, to wait for the legislation to be published, so that we can see the full text, because, of course, it is only at that point, or indeed at its application, that we would be able credibly and reliably to say it was in violation of the joint declaration in the way I have described. I think that is a common-sense approach, which allows China, or other countries around the world that are watching and that we want to stand up in support of international law, to see that we are proceeding on the basis of principle and on the facts.
The hon. Lady asked about the detailed arrangements. I have been working with Ministers, in particular, the Home Secretary and the Home Office, on this since last September. As I said, we will wait to see precisely what the legislation says before making any further announcements, but the Home Secretary will set out the details at the appropriate time.
Of course, dependants would be considered. The hon. Lady rightly pointed out that the threat to Hong Kong is not just to its autonomy and freedoms, but to its economy and to investment in Hong Kong, which the UK and many others have serious interests in. The actions of China are, inexplicably, putting at risk what has long been regarded as one of the jewels in the economic crown for China. So she makes important points on that.
The hon. Lady asked why we had not called for an independent investigation into the police, but in fact I called for it in August 2019 and made that clear, having spoken to chief executive Carrie Lam. The hon. Lady also asked about universal suffrage, which of course is envisaged in the basic law for Hong Kong; I set that out as our position in the House of Commons last September. On both points I welcome her support and that of the Labour party. She then asked about international action, where the United Kingdom has been in the vanguard. We have been co-ordinating with our Five Eyes partners—I had a virtual meeting with them yesterday evening, where we reaffirmed our solidarity on this point. I have had calls and been engaged with the European Union, which has put out a statement—it is not as strong as the one we put out, but it shows that the EU is engaged actively on this. I have been speaking to my German, French and other European partners about it, and I also spoke to my Japanese opposite number today. The issue was discussed in the UN Security Council, but of course China, and indeed Russia, will veto any more substantive debate.
The hon. Lady asked about the specific measures we are proposing. I have been very clear on BNOs. Equally, we will work closely with our international partners on what the right next steps are. I think the focus right now, in order to proceed in a productive way that is likely to give ourselves the best chance of the outcome we want, is on setting out our position clearly and working with our international partners, and the ball is in the court of the Government in China. They have a choice to make here: they can cross the Rubicon and violate the autonomy and the rights of the people of Hong Kong, or they can step back, understand the widespread concern of the international community and live up to their responsibilities as a leading member of the international community.
We now come to the Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, Tom Tugendhat.
I hugely welcome the statement from my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary. May I also say that I welcome a noticeably different attitude from the Opposition Front Bench in standing up to communist tyranny for the first time in a political generation? What we are seeing in Hong Kong is an attempt to impose a very different form of government on the people there, who have rights, as agreed, as my right hon. Friend said, in the Sino-British joint declaration.
My right hon. Friend has already spoken about working with countries in the Five Eyes community and Japan. May I ask him what work he has done with African countries, South American countries and middle eastern countries, and what work is he looking to do in perhaps asking for a UN special envoy to help protect the rule of law that our nation, and indeed his former career, was so important in guaranteeing—not just in Hong Kong, but around the world?
I thank my hon. Friend, the Chairman of the Select Committee, who makes a range of really important points. He is absolutely right to focus on what is the most effective way to build a groundswell of support for the principled stance that we are taking and for opposition to the actions of China where they flout international law. He will also know from his position and his widespread experience, to which I pay tribute, that beyond Five Eyes, the European Union and others, there is a whole range of different opinions on how to engage and deal with China and a range of approaches that China takes—from inducements to intimidation—to cajole, sway and, frankly, coerce countries to bend to its will.
The approach that we are taking is trying to maximise the number of countries around the world—not the usual suspects that China will dismiss as trying to weaken it or to keep it down—to make the most powerful statement and, ultimately, to moderate the actions of China. Unless we can build up that bigger caucus of opinion—my hon. Friend mentioned Africa and South America, and we are working with all of those partners—we will be less effective when it comes to facing down what is clearly egregious behaviour in relation to Hong Kong and some of the other matters that he referred to.
I call Stewart Malcolm McDonald, who has two minutes. I inform the House that I am expecting to run this statement till about 12.45 pm.
I thank the Secretary of State for advance sight of his statement and, like others, I welcome much of what was in it. SNP Members of course stand in full solidarity with those in Hong Kong, and indeed those in Taiwan, who see this as a glimpse of what Beijing might have up its sleeve for them in the future. In fact, anyone who has the heel of state oppression on them right now—let us be honest, that is increasing by the day—deserves our support.
I can accept that this is tricky: it is not a black-and-white situation, given the nature of the actors involved. I think that what the Government are doing on BNOs is right, but is there not a danger that allowing so many people to leave is actually exactly what Beijing wants? While I think it is the right thing to do to allow people to come here and, as the Foreign Secretary mentioned in his statement, to provide them with a path to citizenship, when West Berliners were threatened with oppression, we did not just offer them all visas to leave; we actually stood up for them and offered to defend them. Beyond the statement on BNOs, which is I think right, what else are the Government planning to do in future to support those who are not BNOs and who will be left behind in Hong Kong to deal with the effects of this new law?
I would also like to ask the Foreign Secretary—the Chair of the Select Committee took the question out of my mouth—to expand on how he is teasing together a greater international coalition, because that will be tricky if he is going to bring in the middle east, Africa and others, given China’s enormous global economic footprint through such things as the belt and road initiative and the China strategy. Can I ask him when he expects to see the text of the law? Is there anything in the joint agreement that allows the UK Government to see that sooner rather than later? At what point does he envisage having to take further steps? No one is calling for sanctions just yet, but surely work must be going on to put together something that constitutes a price for Beijing’s heavy hand. Can he confirm whether the law that the authorities in Beijing want to impose has directly led to a reversal on the Huawei decision?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for the substance and the tone of his position. We fully welcome his support, as indeed we welcome the support from all sides in the Chamber. This is a powerful opportunity for us to show a united position on this. It is something that successive Governments have agreed on. He asked whether, if we offered to change BNOs’ status, that would be a gift to Beijing. I do not think that that is true. I do not think, from the response of the Chinese Government, that that is correct. They are very sensitive about this, and in any event it is a point of principle. We have fought to live up to our international responsibilities and commitments, and, as I explained in my statement, we regard this as part of the package that went with the joint declaration. If that is upended because of action on the national security legislation, it is only right that we should rethink the position of BNO passport holders. That also explains, in relation to the question from the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), why we have been quite careful about timing. We have been prepared for this, and we have hoped it would not come, but as has often been said in this House, we hope for the best and prepare for the worst. The hon. Gentleman asked about how we build up international support. In my view, we do so based on principle and the rules of international law. The obvious riposte will be that we are intervening in internal affairs, but we are not. We are seeking to uphold China’s own freely assumed international obligations. And no, I am not expecting advance sight of the legislation from Beijing.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement, but does he not now think that the position of China is altogether too obvious, and that since President Xi arrived, its ambitions globally, both militarily and economically, are now fully on track and Hong Kong is but one manifestation of its global reach through the South China sea, through its abuse of human rights and through its ambitions over Taiwan? Is this not a case, as a previous Prime Minister once said, that this is
“only the first sip…of a bitter cup”,
and that it is going to be offered to us again and again? Appeasement, which has been the case for the free world, is now no longer an option, so will my right hon. Friend now explain how he intends to organise the free world so that we stand up against this? Also, will he now work with all our allies around the world to get them to give all Hong Kong passport holders right of abode, if necessary?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his excellent questions. I do think Hong Kong is part of a pattern, although it is not a uniform one. He referred to the violation of the UN convention on the law of the sea—I think that is what he was referring to in relation to the South China sea—and we could add cyber-attacks and the treatment of the Uighur Muslims. At every step, the right approach for the United Kingdom, as a matter of principle and also of effectiveness, is to call out behaviour that is contrary to international law on its own terms. In answer to the Chairman of the Select Committee and others, that is how we will build a coalition of like-minded countries to stand firm in the face of such behaviour.
My right hon. Friend asked about BNO passport holders. We have made a commitment, which he has heard today. It is important that we did that as a matter of principle, rather than waiting for others to agree in concept. However, we are already discussing with our partners—I raised it on the Five Eyes call yesterday—the possibility of burden sharing if we see a mass exodus from Hong Kong. I do not think that that is likely in the last analysis, but he is right to raise it, and we are on the case diplomatically.
May I particularly welcome the commitment in relation to BNO passport holders? The Foreign Secretary has heard me make that plea on many occasions in the past. He will be aware, though, that the BNO offer was closed in 1997, so the announcement today does not offer any protection to those born after that date, who are, by definition, the brave young Hong Kongers who are out there demonstrating on the streets, and who are most vulnerable and in most need of protection. Will he look at what we can do to assist these people?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman and pay tribute to him for his long-standing and principled position on this issue; he is absolutely right, and we appreciate all the cross-party support on this. He asked about those who do not qualify for BNO passport status. I would just point out that we are talking about over 300,000 people who do qualify. Of course, he makes a reasonable point about the cut-off date, but that would not apply to dependants. We have set out—based on principle, in the right way—the commitment that we are making but, as others have already mentioned, what will be important is that the international community comes together to ensure that there are options for the wider group to which the right hon. Gentleman refers.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s clear statement, and I am glad that he agrees that China’s national security law for Hong Kong totally conflicts with its obligations under the joint declaration. Will he say a little more about what we plan to do with Australia because, of the countries around the world, it has the most to fear from this law coming into effect in Hong Kong?
I thank my hon. Friend, and welcome his remarks and comments. He is absolutely right about the violation of the joint declaration, whether that is through the infringements of peaceful protests or the legislation regarding the national anthem. He specifically asked about Australia. As he will have seen from the statement that the UK has put out, we work closely with the Australians on this matter, as we do with all our Five Eyes partners: the Canadians, the Americans and the Kiwis as well. I spoke to Marise Payne yesterday evening about this subject, and we will be working even more intensely in the future.
Of course, even to get to this point—the work that we have done and the commitment that we have made—we have been talking to the Australians and our other international partners for months, and that will continue constructively. I know that the Australians feel very much that this situation is in their neighbourhood and backyard, and are taking a very principled point of view, but they are right up against it; they see all the impacts of what China is doing, even closer than we do, and we will be working hand in glove with them.
Amnesty International found that the Hong Kong police force has indiscriminately arrested over 1,300 people in the past year at peaceful protests, and has tortured those in detention. It has used extreme force against pro-democracy protesters, including the use of tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets. In America, we see a brutal state crackdown against protests in response to the latest police killing of an unarmed black man, and in England and Wales there have been over 1,700 deaths following contact with the police since 1990. What are the Government doing to oppose state-sanctioned violence and racism in Hong Kong and across the world?
We stand up in the United Nations, the Council of Europe and all the other international forums, as we are doing regarding Hong Kong, and call out those flagrant violations of international law. I have set out the approach that we are taking in relation to Hong Kong. We have raised the matter in the UN Security Council, of which China is obviously a permanent member. China is extremely influential. It deploys all its economic and political leverage—and, indeed, intimidation—to get others to stay quiet. What the United Kingdom has shown—and I am grateful for the hon. Lady’s support—is that we are standing up as a matter of principle and saying, “This is unacceptable”, and we are taking the actions that I described.
At the 1997 Hong Kong handover ceremony, Lord Patten said:
“Hong Kong people are to run Hong Kong. That is the promise. And that is the unshakeable destiny.”
Will the Foreign Secretary take this moment to reaffirm this Government’s commitment to the commitment that we made in the joint declaration, and reassure people that Hong Kongers must continue to run Hong Kong and that that resolutely remains British foreign policy?
It is precisely because that is at stake—in respect of not only the national security legislation but the previous elections we saw and the forthcoming elections later this year—that we are taking the approach that we are. We are calling out what is a clear and manifest breach of the joint declaration, and I reassure my hon. Friend that we will continue to do so, with our international partners.
A number of British businesses with headquarters in Hong Kong are likely to be quite concerned right now. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment of the likely risks to the Hong Kong dollar peg, as well as the potential for control creep in Hong Kong’s regulatory bodies and fiscal structures?
My hon. Friend is quite right to reflect, as others have done already, on the fact that if China is willing to interfere on political and autonomy grounds, it is also likely to pose a longer-term threat to the economic prosperity and economic model that Hong Kong reflects and embodies. We in the UK are mindful of that, not only from an investment point of view but, frankly, from the point of view of individuals who are trying to run livelihoods or invest in Hong Kong. The sad reality is that if China continues down this track, it will strangle what has long been the jewel in the economic crown. It is clear to me that China is putting politics, as it views it, ahead of economics. I am afraid that is a natural consequence of the creeping violation of Hong Kong’s autonomy that we see.
Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are precious human rights the world over. I am sure we have all been reminded of that as we have watched the situation in the United States of America develop over the past 48 hours—I heard what the hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) had to say about that—but what specific representations and specific pressure is the Secretary of State bringing to bear on the Government of Hong Kong to ensure that police handling of protests is necessary and proportionate?
I totally agree with the hon. and learned Lady on that point. We disagree about many things, but one thing about which we have always firmly agreed is the upholding of those elementary human rights, including the essential freedoms of peaceful protest, which are the aspiration of the people of Hong Kong. As I mentioned to the shadow Foreign Secretary, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), I raised the need for a fully independent and robust investigation into the recent events, including the police treatment of protesters, in my first conversation with Carrie Lam back on 9 August. I made that clear then and we have done so consistently since. We recognise the concerns about the Independent Police Complaints Council and we have been working to see what we can do to reinforce it and to make it stronger. We also recognise the inherent weaknesses in it, which is why we will continue, in line with the shadow Foreign Secretary, to call for a fully independent inquiry into those actions. I hope the hon. and learned Lady will support that.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Romford (Andrew Rosindell) has often pointed out, only 500 veterans of the former Hong Kong Military Service Corps and royal naval service were offered UK passports in 1997; the rest were disregarded. Has not the time now come to pay this debt of honour to around 250 additional former servants of the British Crown by allowing them and their families the right to relocate to the United Kingdom if they wish or need to do so in future?
My right hon. Friend makes an extremely important and forensic point, as ever. As a Government and as a country we are extremely grateful to those who served in the Hong Kong Military Service Corps. He is right that under the scheme, which was introduced in 1990 and ran until July 1997, only a limited number of Hong Kong Military Service Corps personnel who were settled in Hong Kong could apply to register as a British citizen. The Home Office is listening to representations made on behalf of those former service corps personnel who were unable to obtain citizenship at that time too see what, if anything, further may be done.
Rubber bullets, tear gas, central Governments clamping down on local authorities—this is not just, of course, what we are seeing in America, but it is a long-term trend in Hong Kong. I welcome what the Secretary of State has said, but I implore him to see this not just as the enactment of a particular Bill in Beijing but as a long-term trend of undermining the rights of people in Hong Kong. Will the Foreign Secretary ensure that this extension of the right to be here for six months on a rolling basis for British national overseas citizens is not just granted on condition of whether Beijing withdraws a particular Bill temporarily? Whatever it does, we should ensure that rights is given, and not just to passport holders but to all people who are entitled to BNO status.
I think the hon. Gentleman is right on this point of principle. We want to make sure that we live up to our responsibilities, but it is also important, as we try to change the long-term trend to which he rightly refers, that we are clear about the basis on which we would do it. The basis is the ripping up of the essence of the joint declaration. We need to wait and see what the national security legislation looks like, to see affirmed the terms that have already been described by the Government in Beijing. We are right to say that that particular trigger point would change our minds, because then we would be able to stand on the firm point of principle and international law as the basis on which we were extending those rights. The stronger the position we are able to be in in that regard, the more likely we are to carry wide international support for the actions that we take.
In article 45 of the Hong Kong Basic Law, the Hong Kong people were promised universal suffrage. It is clear that that is being ignored. Does my right hon. Friend agree that the UK now has a legal and moral responsibility to protect the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend about the moral responsibility and our responsibility in terms of the commitments that we have made to the people of Hong Kong. We fully intend to live up to those responsibilities. There is still an opportunity for China to step back; we think it is unlikely that that will happen, but we will be steadfast in sticking to the word that we have given to stand by the people of Hong Kong and not just look the other way.
The Foreign Secretary has said that there can be no return to “business as usual” in Sino-British relations. What exactly did he mean, and can he give examples of what this will mean in practice?
That quote has been much bandied around. It is absolutely right. The context for it was when I was asked what we would do in order to have a clear review of how the outbreak of coronavirus started and came about. I wanted to be clear, and the United Kingdom is clear, working with our international partners and as a matter of principle, that we need to have a sober and clear-sighted independent review and analysis of how the outbreak happened, how it was allowed to spread and what we can do to prevent it from ever happening again.
The Foreign Secretary will be aware of the concern of charities such as Amnesty International and Hong Kong Watch about how these laws could impact on the work that they carry out in the territory and that the political opposition more generally could be accused of subversion and imprisoned simply for speaking to foreigners with ties to foreign Governments. Will he commit to the hilt to support the work of charities and non-governmental organisations operating in Hong Kong for the protection and freedom of its citizens?
I can give the hon. Gentleman that reassurance. Of course, the climate for NGOs, and for anyone speaking out in an independent forum, whether in the media or otherwise, has massively closed down. That is not just wrong as a matter of principle and the values that we share in the House. It is wrong as a matter of the joint declaration, but also as a matter of China’s view of Hong Kong’s future, reflected in Chinese law, and in particular the Basic Law.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. Does he agree that the national security law proposed by Beijing undermines the one country, two systems framework? Will he assure me that the UK will continue to be robust to stop the creeping violations of Hong Kong rights and continue to work with our international friends and colleagues?
I can absolutely give my hon. Friend that assurance. Of course, we are dealing with a major economic power that relies on all its economic and political leverage and, indeed, other means, to bring different countries and Governments to its way of thinking or just to quieten them down. Our approach—as I have described, based on principle and international law—is therefore the most likely to be effective in building up that groundswell of support that has the best chance of changing China’s behaviour.
As far back as 1989, the late, great Paddy Ashdown called on the Government to institute safeguards just in case one day China not just overreached but breached the joint declaration. We now potentially find ourselves in that position. Hongkongers are finding that the world is shifting beneath their feet, with nowhere to go. I understand that former Foreign Secretaries have written to the current Foreign Secretary, asking him to set up an international contact group to look at international human rights and also a lifeboat policy for Hongkongers. Has he considered their call and will he set up such a group?
I pay tribute to the late Lord Paddy Ashdown for all his work. The UK is in the vanguard of the international response on Hong Kong. I am not sure that we are quite in the same situation with China and Hong Kong as we were with the former Yugoslavia, on which I worked as a war crimes lawyer in the early 2000s. None the less, the spirit of the hon. Lady’s question is absolutely right. As I have described, we want to build up a groundswell of those who share our commitment to the basic tenets of international law. That is most likely to be effective in getting China to think again about Hong Kong and all those other areas. We have raised China’s conduct on human rights issues in the Human Rights Council and the United Nations Security Council, and we will raise Hong Kong in every appropriate forum that we conceivably can.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement and his commitment on BNO passport holders. Back in the 1990s, this country, with a degree of regret, fulfilled its international legal obligations to China. We must be absolutely clear to the Chinese that we expect them to do the same now with the people of Hong Kong and with this country. Will he make it absolutely clear to the Chinese Government that although we want constructive relations in future, that will be incredibly difficult if they go ahead with a measure that completely breaches the agreement they have with us and sends entirely the wrong message to the international community about what China wishes to become?
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend for his long-standing position on the issue. He is absolutely right. We are not looking for inevitable confrontation with China. This is a question of specific undertakings, which were made at the time of the handover, to the United Kingdom and, more important, to the people of Hong Kong—and, indeed, to the world. We will, with our international partners, press rigorously and robustly to try to require China to live up to its obligations and, frankly, the responsibilities that come with wanting to be treated as a leading member of the international community.
There has been a clear undermining of the human rights of the people of Hong Kong and a blatant breach of the Sino-British joint declaration. The Foreign Secretary says that he has been calling for an independent inquiry for 10 months. Why has nothing happened? What support are the Government giving to human rights defenders in Hong Kong?
I appreciate the hon. Lady’s spirit, but nothing has happened because we do not control China or the Government in Hong Kong. It is not entirely clear to me what specifically she proposes. I am open to all suggestions. I welcome them.
We have called for a fully independent investigation in relation to police treatment of the protesters. We will introduce our mechanism for so-called Magnitsky legislation shortly. [Hon. Members: “When?”] We have been slightly disrupted because of coronavirus, but we will bring it forward shortly. I pay tribute to the work of the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who speaks from a sedentary position and has a long-standing position on the issue.
If the international security law is imposed on Hong Kong, will my right hon. Friend confirm that he will work with the Home Secretary to explore all options to support BNO passport holders?
I agree with the spirit of my hon. Friend’s question. The ideal thing would be for China to step back. If China does not step back, we will consider all the possible actions and measures that we might wish to take. Fundamentally, rather than just wait for international co-operation on the specific issue of what will happen to those who are not willing to stay in Hong Kong, we feel that we have a duty—as a matter of international law, moral responsibility and historical responsibility—to come out and lead. That is why we have said that we will allow the 300,000-plus passport holders, along with their dependants, to come to the UK in the way I described.
It is right that we take our special historical responsibilities seriously and take a significant interest in this issue, but we know that, when we do take an interest in such issues, diaspora communities at home suffer more. The Chinese community and people of Chinese heritage in Nottingham and, frankly, across the country, have had a horrendous first five months to this year, with abuse increased in staggering amounts. Can I therefore seek assurances from the Foreign Secretary that, as well as the admirably assertive role he is going to play on the international stage, he is working with his colleagues across Government to formulate a sympathetic package and a thoughtful way of supporting Chinese people and those of a Chinese background in this country, because they really need us now?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I have a councillor in my constituency, Xingang Wang, who is not only one of the most hard-working businessmen, but one of the most hard-working councillors, and I am sure we all have examples of that across the country and across the political divides. It is crucial that we say to the Chinese community here that we value their contribution, that our stance is in relation to the Government of China and their violation of the rights and the autonomy of the people of Hong Kong. We will extend warm engagement to the people of Hong Kong and embrace them in the way I have described with the change of status so that they can come here, and I fully support what the hon. Gentleman said.
I welcome very much my right hon. Friend’s statement. Does he agree that China itself is now at a crossroads? It can either be a partner in the international community, which is what we want to see, or take the path to becoming a pariah state with disputes in the South China sea, at the World Trade Organisation and a lack of co-operation with the World Health Organisation over covid. Does he agree that if the Chinese Communist party applies these laws to Hong Kong in clear breach of previous commitments, the world will start to wonder what the value is of a Chinese signature on an international treaty? That would have profound international consequences.
I thank my right hon. Friend. He is absolutely right that at the core of this, beyond all the specific issues that he has raised—freedom of navigation in the South China sea, the issue of transparency and getting to the truth in relation to the initial outbreak of coronavirus, the wider issues around cyber-attacks that China engages in and, of course, the issue of the people of Hong Kong—this is a question not just of international law and rights and the violations of those rights, but of trust and confidence in the kind of partner that China wishes to become. As I have said unapologetically, we wish to engage with China. We do not wish to prevent its rise. We wish to welcome China’s rise, but I think what my right hon. Friend describes is absolutely right: China must live up to the obligations and responsibilities that come with that status.
In his statement, the Foreign Secretary mentioned that the UK will not look away when it comes to the people of Hong Kong. The Hong Kong protest movement has been driven by disenfranchised young people who just want representation, and that can only happen if there is democratic reform. As a co-signatory to the joint declaration, the UK Government have a duty to hold China accountable for the promise it made on this issue. Will he call on the Hong Kong Government to enact political reform and give the Hong Kong people universal suffrage?
I agree with the hon. Lady. I made my view clear in the House of Commons on 26 September 2019 in my first debate on Hong Kong, and I welcome her support for the position of the Government. Of course, the bottom line is that we cannot force China and no one is seriously suggesting, I think, that we can do so through coercive measures. What we must do is build up a groundswell of international support, based on standing up for principle, rights and the rules of the international system, to persuade China that it will be bad for China, bad for Hong Kong and bad for its own aspirations for it to continue down this path.
In the spirit of solidarity across the Benches on this issue, I pay tribute to a previous MP for Bath and the last Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten, for all he has done and continues to do for the people of Hong Kong. One of my constituents was born in Hong Kong before 1997, but for one reason or another, his parents never applied for a BNO passport. Will the Secretary of State ensure that those who are eligible but have so far not been BNO passport holders can apply for one?
Of course, that is something we will look at. I agree with the hon. Lady about paying tribute to the noble Lord Patten in the other place for all the work that he did on the handover and as the last Governor. What we want to do—I think this is true across the House, from all the different parties—is live up to the responsibilities that we made at the time.
Is it not most unlikely that China will step back from its actions at this stage, because what it is doing is a projection of political power struggles at the top of the Communist party? If my right hon. Friend believes, as I do, that that is possible, does he agree that it is therefore necessary for the Government to prepare to permanently welcome a broader scope of people to the UK and, with them, their capital so that they can be permanently established here, where we are still free?
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend because I know he stands for the cause of liberty wherever it may be—I have always been shoulder to shoulder with him and I am glad to be again. In relation to the people of Hong Kong, we have set out a very principled and generous approach. If we look at the numbers potentially involved, we are talking about over 300,000 holders of BNO passports and, in terms of those eligible, close to 3 million. So I think the UK, in the terms that I have described, is doing its bit, but we also need to work with our wider international partners who have significant Hong Kong communities, and a significant stake and interests in Hong Kong, to make sure that that is a broader international response. He is right to exude some scepticism about whether China will row back, but we have to give it every opportunity, even if it is only a marginal one.
I welcome the Foreign Secretary standing full square behind the people of Hong Kong. I believe that our economic standing is enhanced, rather than diminished, when Britain stands up for human rights across the world, but does the Foreign Secretary accept that we would be less susceptible to accusations of hypocrisy if he condemned President Trump’s words and actions in saying,
“when the looting starts, the shooting starts”
and in last night using tear gas to clear peaceful Black Lives Matter demonstrators?
I understand the concern, as does anyone who has watched those distressing pictures in relation to George Floyd or indeed the wider protests and violence across America—we all want to see America come together, not tear itself apart. I just gently say to the hon. Lady that there is a federal review of what has often been state action under way and charges have already been brought in relation to the perpetrator. Therefore—I am not sure whether she was trying to do this—I would be a bit careful about the moral equivalence between what is happening in the United States, however sobering and troubling it is, and what is happening in China.
I thank my right hon. Friend for his statement. Where does he think the United Nations is with this issue? The democratic freedoms of the people of Hong Kong are enshrined in international law and an international treaty lodged at the UN, but given what he said a few moments ago about the way China uses its negative influence to try to silence other countries, does he regard the UN as a lost cause when it comes to defending the people of Hong Kong? What we should be seeing right now is a UN special envoy being put in place to help lead the international effort.
I pay tribute to the work that my right hon. Friend has been doing with other parliamentarians on this subject. He is right to press for what we are doing at the UN. There are, of course, some inherent limitations on what we can do in relation to a permanent member, with the veto that comes with it in the Security Council. We have raised this in the UN Security Council, although there are all sorts of challenges, as the hon. Member for Wigan described, and we have raised China’s behaviour in the past in relation to human rights in the Human Rights Council. Fundamentally, I think it is important—this is why we have framed our response in the way that we have to garner as much support in the United Nations and equivalent bodies as possible—to base this on principle, international law and the UN’s own international covenant on civil and political rights. That seems to me the surest way to build up the groundswell of support in the UN that my right hon. Friend described.
The Hong Kong people are rightly relying on us to show solidarity at this point, especially when Hong Kong police have used extreme force against pro-democracy protesters, including the use of rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas. Is the Foreign Secretary concerned about that and what precise steps has he taken to help avert this in future?
The hon. Gentleman picks up on a point that has been raised by a number of colleagues. I am absolutely concerned about it. I raised the issue with Carrie Lam, the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, the first time I spoke to her, back in August. We have consistently raised it since. The so-called Independent Police Complaints Council is in place. We have serious concerns about its independence. I think that is what fuelled the remarks by the shadow Foreign Secretary. Of course, though, as the hon. Gentleman I think will recognise, there are limits to what we can do in practice to force, or to require, either China or the authorities in Hong Kong to see sense on some of this. The way we will do it is by exercising our soft power and our influence and by building up a groundswell of support, and the best way to achieve that is based on principle, including human rights and international law.
A million Tibetans killed by Chinese oppression, 2 million Uighurs incarcerated in re-education concentration camps, and now 7.5 million Hong Kong citizens about to see their civil liberties and freedom of expression snuffed out. I acknowledge and applaud the Foreign Secretary’s strong statement, but closer to home, does he share my concern that a country with such a flagrant disregard for human rights is buying and bullying influence on British campuses and in British schools and British boardrooms?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to raise the point of principle that we must be very mindful, across campuses and universities and generally, in relation to China and otherwise, to protect the freedom of expression and freedom of speech that we are now jealously guarding for the people of Hong Kong. He is right to raise the concerns around undue influence that effectively trails back to the Chinese Government. That is something we are actively looking at.
The very fact that we are debating here today and seem to be speaking with one voice will send a strong message to the people of Hong Kong of our support for them at this time. With the postponement of the G7, when does the Prime Minister plan to raise this issue with President Xi?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We will raise this, as we have raised it consistently, with the Chinese Government at every level—of course, to the extent that they are willing to engage. The important point is to engage with China, to the extent that we can, on these very specific points and the specific basis that I have set out. Of course, China just looks the other way and wants to ignore and flout not just international law but international opinion, and of course there are going to be consequences for its own ambitions in the world.
The Foreign Secretary has talked about the potential to extend to BNO passport holders the right to stay in the UK for an extendable period of 12 months. What would happen after those 12 months? What specific discussions has he had with his colleagues at the Home Office? What rights will be extended to those passport holders’ dependants?
The purpose of offering extendable periods of 12 months is that there will be no guillotine that comes down. It allows BNO passport holders to come here. We are removing the six-month limitation. They can apply to work and study, and that will itself create a path to citizenship. I have been engaged with the Home Secretary and, indeed, other Ministers since last September, looking at the detail. There is further consideration that we are giving to it. Of course, it is about giving effect to those rights as effectively as possible, but also doing it in the most straightforward and swift way we possibly can.
The Foreign Secretary is right to suggest that the national security legislation has a sense of inevitability about it. Will he therefore go further and make it clear to Hong Kongers that they will always be welcome here and that the Government regard them as a potential boon, not a burden, and in so doing make it very clear that, post Brexit, we are global Britain and not little England?
I entirely share that spirit. As someone whose father and his family, to the extent that they were able to, came here as refugees, I think this country has a proud tradition of standing up as a haven for those who flee persecution, and I know the Home Secretary feels the same way. We absolutely intend to live up to our responsibilities, not just as a matter of obligation but because that is what the British people do at their very best.
The Foreign Secretary has rightly made known the Government’s concerns and our collective concerns about the erosion of autonomy and democratic rights in Hong Kong. I have listened carefully to his responses. Will he say more specifically what consideration he has given to our future trading relationship with China in the event that it continues down this very troubling path?
The hon. Lady raises a perfectly good point. We will talk with all our international partners about this. China’s size and scale and potential growth means it has asymmetric economic power in this regard, but of course we are not going to just turn a blind eye. I have set out the measures, and we will look very carefully with our wider partners at what further action we can take. We want to try to engage with China and moderate its conduct, and that will be the lodestar for the action we take and that we try to galvanise the international community to take.
The Foreign Secretary’s statement standing up for the people of Hong Kong is very welcome, not least given our historical ties and responsibilities. Will my right hon. Friend outline to the House what action he is taking with other members of the Commonwealth to combat the proposed actions of the Chinese Government?
I spoke last night to my opposite numbers from New Zealand, Australia and Canada, along with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, but that is the starting point, not the point of arrival. We have got to make sure we build this up into a broader groundswell. Working with Five Eyes and our European partners is important, but I have also spoken both to people within the Commonwealth and outside—I spoke to my Japanese opposite number this morning—and we must try to make this as broad a group as possible, based on a like-minded attachment to the principles of, and adherence to, international law.
I thank my right hon. Friend and also the Home Secretary for the steps they are taking to support the BNO passport holders. China has an appalling track record when it comes to the rights of Christians and other faith groups, and there is growing concern among Church leaders in Hong Kong in light of recent developments, so what assessment has my right hon. Friend made of the particular threat to Christians there, and will he ensure that everything possible is done to defend the rights of belief, worship and freedom of speech in Hong Kong?
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments, and he is absolutely right to pay tribute to the Home Office and the Home Secretary for assiduously working on this with my Department and others for months. We will stand up for freedom of religion and freedom of expression wherever it stands and whichever minority or group is seeking to avail itself of it. That is a point of principle—that is what we are about—and that applies to Christian minorities and to the Uighur Muslims as well. We have, of course, my hon. Friend the Member for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti), the Prime Minister’s special envoy specifically dedicated to working around the world on this issue.
As the Foreign Secretary has acknowledged, there is concern not just about what is happening in Hong Kong but also the treatment of the Uighur Muslims and Falun Gong practitioners and what is happening not just in terms of human rights abuses in Tibet but the terrible environmental destruction going on there, too. The Foreign Secretary mentioned the asymmetric economic power of China, and also implied that, basically, China’s refusal to engage on human rights dialogue means it can get away with doing whatever it wants; is that really the case?
I thank the hon. Lady for her question and understand the spirit in which she asked it. She made some important points, and the asymmetric economic size and growth of China is a fact and the important thing we can do is engage with China as it rises and wishes to take up the mantle of being a leading member of the international community—trying to shape the rules of the international system, which it is undoubtedly trying to do, as we can see from the number of elections in which it runs in international organisations—working with our partners to say, “I’m sorry, but unless you’re willing to live up to the obligations and responsibilities that come with that role, you won’t get the kind of support that will allow you to realise those aspirations.” I have had previous conversations with State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi on this subject and I will continue to engage with him as constructively as possible at any moment in time, but of course it requires the Chinese Government to be willing to engage on their side as well.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his exemplary approach to this crisis so far. Will he recognise, not least from our exchanges this morning, that he has the chance to unite the House and the country behind a complete reset of our approach, recognising that the Chinese Government are implacably hostile to our democracy, to our values and to our global interests, and that Government policy should in future reflect that sobering but realistic analysis?
I thank my right hon. Friend, and he is right to say that the actions in relation to Hong Kong and in other areas are opposed to our values as well as our interests. I certainly welcome the fact that we have, it feels to me, a groundswell of cross-party consensus on this issue, because we are stronger when we are bigger than the sum of our parts and we are more effective in getting our message across. We now have to translate that into the wider international community.
I applaud the Foreign Secretary for what he has said; he is being very, very reasonable and, as the right hon. Member for Ashford (Damian Green) said, has the whole House behind him. I just want more oomph from him—a bit more vim and determination—because these are really important principles; the rule of law around the world must hold. So I say to him: please, please, please, bring forward the blasted Magnitsky regulations, which he proposed when he was a Back Bencher. I want him to bring them back to the Dispatch Box, not in weeks, months and years, but in days and hours.
I will do my level best to get this before the House before the summer recess. I hope that the hon. Gentleman, who is most understanding, will recognise that one or two other things have displaced our focus—[Interruption.] I should point out to the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) that the Government have not been in power, and I have not been Foreign Secretary, for two years, but we will get on with it. I share the hon. Gentleman’s restlessness to deliver it and look forward to his support when we do.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s statement. This country has long and historic ties with Hong Kong, and we must take this relationship extremely seriously. Can he assure me that we continue to stand up for British nationals overseas in Hong Kong, who will see their freedoms curtailed by Beijing if this law is passed?
I totally agree with my hon. Friend. We have tried to proceed at the right moment and in the right way, with the generosity of spirit that defines this country at its very finest and in a way that reaches out to and shows people in Hong Kong that if China follows through on this they can come to the warm embrace of this country. We will make the practical arrangements, which of course are not straightforward, to give effect to those aspirations.
People in the House have rightly taken note of the fact that we must protect freedom of expression and assembly, and 4 June would normally see people marking the Tiananmen anniversary, but the authorities in Hong Kong do not seem to be allowing it to go ahead. What representations have the British Government made that would allow people to mark the anniversary in a socially distant way so as to allow that freedom of expression and assembly?
The authorities in Hong Kong have today confirmed that they will not allow the Tiananmen commemoration, which has typically taken place for many years. In fairness, they have explained that on the grounds of coronavirus, but I share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns within the wider context. It is worrying and disturbing, and we will continue to raise all these points, whether on the issue he has raised, the British national overseas passports, the national security law, the new legislation on the national anthem, or the wider panoply of measures that China is taking.
I welcome my right hon. Friend’s explanation of the Government’s position and his recognition of the growing list of acts of intimidation, authoritarianism and expansionism by the Communist party of China. Is this announcement an individual response to an isolated incident or part of a wider reappraisal of our foreign policy towards China? Does he think that the long-applied and hopeful policy of positive engagement with China is not having the desired outcome? If so, how should this approach change?
I certainly agree that there are huge challenges in engagement with China across a whole suite of issues, from cyber through to intellectual property theft and of course the people of Hong Kong. We have said throughout that we are not seeking to contain China as a matter of dogmatic strategy; we are seeking to engage with it. There are also opportunities in the relationship—on trade and on climate change, with some of the green technology it is capable of innovating as well as in relation to its role as a major emitter—and we want to engage to accentuate those opportunities and mitigate the risks involved. The issue with Hong Kong is different. It is a point of principle and relates to the historic ties to which Members on both sides of the House have referred. That is why we have set out such detail. We will stand by this relationship and continue to seek to engage, as difficult as it may be, but we will also be clear that if China flouts international law, or those wider values and principles that we hold dear, we will stand up and act. Equally, we will defend the key equities that we have in this country, whether in relation to intellectual property theft or telecoms.
Yesterday, I was contacted by a constituent who is an overseas student at St Andrews University; he did not apply for a BNO passport at the time of the original offer because he was a toddler, and his parents did not apply on his behalf. I welcome the Foreign Secretary’s statement, but there are many Hong Kong citizens who, like my constituent, did not receive a BNO passport in the first place and missed out. Will he consider the proposal made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) in his Hong Kong Bill, which I sponsored, which would offer a pathway to citizenship for all Hong Kong citizens.
We need to be realistic about the volume of people that we in this country could credibly and responsibly absorb. I do not think we can have this debate without acknowledging that. The fact is, though, that we have an historic set of responsibilities, as I set out earlier, and we will live up to them. Perhaps the hon. Lady should get in touch with my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary regarding the particular case she raised, to see what more can be done around eligibility.
Thank you, Mr Speaker. I had little hope but all faith in you to get me in at 50!
Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedoms are what have allowed it to become so successful and prosperous. Does my right hon. Friend share my concern that the new national security law will put that prosperity and Hong Kong’s international standing in grave danger?
On all sorts of grounds—standing, economic—China’s actions are entirely self-defeating, as well as flouting its responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong and the international commitments it has made. I agree entirely with my hon. Friend.