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House of Lords Hansard
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24 January 2018
Volume 788

Question

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of Hong Kong’s autonomy, rights and freedoms, following recently approved changes to the procedural rules of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, and the refusal of entry into Hong Kong of Taiwanese scholars and the British human rights activist, Benedict Rogers.

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My Lords, the Government’s most recent six-monthly report, published in the House in September, makes it clear that, while the one country, two systems framework is generally functioning well, important areas are coming under increasing pressure. Since then, the case of British national Ben Rogers being denied entry to Hong Kong in October has raised further concerns, as reflected in the Foreign Secretary’s public statement at the time and subsequent further evidence to the Foreign Affairs Committee.

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My Lords, I am grateful for that reassuring reply. Is the Minister aware that, according to the claims made by the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities, it is an interference in the domestic affairs of China for a British parliamentarian to visit Hong Kong to assess progress on the joint declaration? Given that the joint declaration is an international treaty lodged in the UN, which places responsibility on both sides to carry it out, will the Minister take this opportunity strenuously to reject that view and ensure that both the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities are duly notified?

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Let me assure the noble Lord that I totally agree with the position he has just articulated. Indeed, we are fully aware of the situation that arose with the noble Lord’s visit to Hong Kong. In that regard, I am sure that he read with a positive perspective the reply of my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary, which very much restates the position articulated by the noble Lord. I assure noble Lords that the UK remains committed to strengthening its relationship with China, but not to the detriment of the joint declaration, which remains strong as ever.

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As the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, said, this is an international treaty. In the debate in Westminster Hall yesterday, Mark Field said that we will continue to raise with the Chinese authorities our concerns, particularly on the Ben Rogers situation, but also about the ongoing arrests—28 last month. If we are to continue to raise our concerns, is it not about time that we escalated this so that the Prime Minister demands answers from China on these breaches of an international treaty?

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As the noble Lord may be aware, at the last G20 meeting my right honourable friend the Prime Minister raised various issues in this respect. On his point about escalation and Ben Rogers, he may be aware that, at that time, the Chinese ambassador to the UK was also summoned to the Foreign Office. I have met Ben Rogers, as have other Ministers, since this incident took place. Let me reassure the noble Lord—indeed, all noble Lords—that we continue to use every opportunity, both bilaterally and through international fora, to raise the important issue of the international agreement, to which both countries are signatories.

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After Mr Rogers’ case, what advice does the Minister give to other British citizens travelling on a bona fide passport who wish to go to Hong Kong? Should they simply go, or should they inquire first of the Chinese embassy whether their presence in Hong Kong is to be tolerated?

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My noble friend speaks from great knowledge of the area, but as he and all noble Lords will be aware, the issue of immigration remains very much in the hands of the special administrative region of Hong Kong and our advice has not changed: British citizens should travel to Hong Kong, as they do now.

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My Lords, I declare an interest as a patron of Hong Kong Watch. Notwithstanding what the Minister said in his welcome reply to the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, how does he respond to the Hong Kong Bar Association’s assertion that the Chinese Government’s decision to enforce mainland law at the new high-speed rail terminus in Hong Kong is,

“the most retrograde step to date in the implementation of the Basic Law and severely undermines public confidence in ‘one country, two systems’ and the rule of law”?

That fear is reinforced by the imprisonment of Joshua Wong and Nathan Law, both of whom I have hosted here in your Lordships’ House, and whose treatment is yet another sign that one country, two systems is morphing into one country, one system.

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The noble Lord is right to raise these issues and while the economic case that the Chinese have made for the high-speed rail link is clear, it is also important that the final arrangements are and remain consistent with the one country, two systems framework. We understand that the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society of Hong Kong have also raised concerns about the legal basis for this proposal, and we continue to urge both the Chinese and the Hong Kong special administrative region to ensure that the agreement, which stands with international recognition, continues to be abided by.

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My Lords, for those of us who love Hong Kong and really appreciate the energy and vitality of its people, will the Government impress on the Chinese Government that the special position of Hong Kong and its prosperity depend upon the rule of law and its maintenance, and that anything done to undermine that—fortunately, we still have an independent judiciary there—is likely to ruin Hong Kong’s prosperity in international trade everywhere in the world?

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The noble Lord is quite right and I agree with him totally. Let me assure him that we continue to address this issue through the Chinese authorities, bilateral meetings and the Hong Kong authorities. The Chief Executive of Hong Kong, for example, visited last September and in every meeting she had during that visit—indeed, my right honourable friend Sajid Javid visited Hong Kong last November—the very point the noble Lord makes about sustaining, strengthening and upholding the rule of law was clearly made to the Chinese authorities.

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My Lords, Hong Kong was as colony for many years and in that time, a large number of Hong Kong people served in the Navy and the Army. Some of those who served, many of them for quite long periods, are now not getting any special treatment in trying to come to this country. Is this issue being looked at and dealt with in government—or has it just been pushed to one side?

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As the noble Lord may well be aware, people who are Hong Kong residents are granted special consular assistance if they are travelling to third-party countries; indeed, they can visit the UK for up to six months, and we have seen that recently with many people in Hong Kong, including those with the special status the noble Lord mentions. The police is another area we are looking at, and we want to ensure that we can process applications through the normal Home Office channels. But my understanding is that more than 200,000 people resident in Hong Kong have British nationality, and a Home Office process remains in place to look into the individual cases of those who do not. However, I stress that it is an immigration process and the Home Office looks at it closely to ensure that the rights and responsibilities are sustained, and the rights of those seeking British nationality are also protected.