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Hong Kong

Volume 693: debated on Wednesday 27 June 2007

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What recent discussions they have had with the Government of China about the future of Hong Kong.

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary discussed Hong Kong with Premier Wen Jiabao during her visit to China in mid-May. My right honourable friend Ian McCartney had discussions with the executive deputy director of the Chinese State Council Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office on 18 April. One of the main topics in both these discussions was progress towards universal suffrage.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. As we approach the 10th anniversary of the transfer of sovereignty of Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China on Saturday 30 June, will he confirm that the success of the idea of “one country, two systems” negotiated by Premier Deng Xiaoping, my noble friend Lady Thatcher and my noble and learned friend Lord Howe has borne the test of time, despite the Asian financial crisis and the bird flu epidemic; and that it is a tribute to the courage and vision of those in the early 1980s, to the sensitive and enlightened way in which those responsible have implemented it, and to the resilience and dynamism of the people of Hong Kong? Will the Minister join in wishing the people of Hong Kong the prosperity, stability and happiness which they deserve over the next 40 years envisaged in the joint declaration?

My Lords, I certainly share those sentiments, and I congratulate noble Lords opposite on what was a very finely honed agreement. I offer that congratulation to the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, who, as Minister of State in the FCO in the early 1990s, played a considerable role. This has been a real success story, not only for the people of Hong Kong—I profoundly hope that will continue—as it has helped to open doors and to keep doors open with China as well. We should not only congratulate people, but build on that success over the years to come.

My Lords, are the Government aware that the Chinese Basic Law forming Hong Kong’s constitution has as its ultimate aim universal suffrage for the election of both the chief executive and the legislature and that the new chief executive in Hong Kong has publicly undertaken to publish a Green Paper in July to consult the people of Hong Kong on the implementation of universal suffrage, the road map, options and the timetable?

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, whose very considerable accomplishments in Hong Kong are of great assistance in this. We remain, as I believe the authorities in Hong Kong and China remain, committed to future universal suffrage introduced as early as possible as the best way of protecting stable, accountable and transparent government and the economic prosperity that goes with it. That must be our objective, and we are on course to achieve it.

My Lords, bearing in mind that the London Stock Exchange has an office in Hong Kong, and the need for us to be a global financial power, has the London Stock Exchange considered opening an Asian market? Does the Minister agree that we need to be playing a strong game in the Asian field, and that would help considerably?

My Lords, I regret that the internal commercial secrets of plcs such as the London Stock Exchange are sometimes held back from me. None the less, I can see the importance of the question. The United Kingdom’s commercial relationship is a very special one. There are 1,000 British companies and 3.5 million British nationals (overseas) there. The third largest market for our goods in Asia after Japan and mainland China is in Hong Kong. Those are the bases for that kind of economic development.

My Lords, does the Minister recall that, at the time of the handover, some people who were accused of being too optimistic said that in fact it would not so much be a question of China taking over Hong Kong as the Hong Kong system influencing, taking over and permeating the People’s Republic of China? Has not that happened to a considerable degree? Hong Kong has become the gateway or entrance through which all people pass who want to invest in the vast, booming economy of the People’s Republic. Does the Minister recall the comment—there is nothing partisan in this at all; on the contrary—made by the previous Prime Minister in the early 1990s? Mr Major said of the people of Hong Kong, “We will not forget you”. Will the Minister ensure, whoever is Prime Minister and whatever Government serves, that between us we will carry on with that adage and support?

My Lords, we most certainly should do so. When the noble Lord referred to the “previous Prime Minister”, I was wondering for a moment who he was going to name. I accept entirely that Hong Kong has been a portal for economic development in China. I recall those who thought that it would be too difficult to achieve. I put it this way: Hong Kong might in the past have been a barrier, but it is now a bridge, and that is how we should keep it.

My Lords, did the Minister see the BBC reports last week about the imprisonment and the beating up in jail of the Chinese human rights activist, the blind, barefoot lawyer Chen Guang Cheng? When the Minister has had discussions with the Government of China, has he raised human rights issues? Has he raised the censoring of internet access to search engines, which deprives people in China of the opportunity of learning the truth about ideologies and the nature of regimes?

My Lords, I did not see the programme—I was on FCO business overseas last week—but I assure the House that issues of human rights and of broadcasting and media freedom are raised all the time, pretty much in every meeting. As the Minister who happens to be responsible for the BBC World Service, I raise those issues with some passion.

My Lords, does the noble Lord recall that when Donald Tsang was in Beijing in April this year for installation as chief executive, President Hu Jintao himself affirmed the extent to which the people of Hong Kong looked forward to gradual and orderly progress towards universal suffrage—an objective therefore acknowledged on both sides as part of the agreement?

My Lords, that is not only an accurate description of what took place, but a very accurate description of the aspiration on both sides.