My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall repeat in the form of a Statement the Answer to an Urgent Question in the other place earlier today with reference to Hong Kong. The Statement is as follows:
“For a number of weeks now, the world has been watching massive, yet largely peaceful, protests in Hong Kong, in opposition to the proposed extradition legislation. Unfortunately, a small number of protesters chose to vandalise the premises of the Legislative Council yesterday. Her Majesty’s Government strongly condemn any such violence, but also understand the deep-seated concerns that people in Hong Kong have about their rights and freedoms. Of the hundreds of thousands of people who took part in the 1 July march yesterday, the vast majority did so in a peaceful and lawful manner.
The United Kingdom is fully committed to upholding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and rights and freedoms under the ‘one country, two systems’ principle, which is guaranteed by the legally binding joint declaration of 1984. We reject the Chinese Government’s assertion that the joint declaration is an historic document, by which they mean it is no longer valid and that our rights and obligations under that treaty have ended. Our clear view is that the Sino-British joint declaration of 1984 obliges the Chinese Government to uphold Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and its rights and freedoms, and we call on the Chinese Government to do so.
In respect of the recent demonstrations, the main responsibility for addressing this tension rests with the Government of Hong Kong, including the Chief Executive”.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating that Statement. I welcome the acknowledgement by the Government that they reject the notion by the Chinese Government that the agreement is a historic document, but yesterday’s editorial in the state-run China Daily said that Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China and that its affairs concern China only. There is no doubt that China appears to be moving to a ‘one country, one system’ position, using these incidents to tighten its grip on Hong Kong. Will the noble Baroness outline what the next steps are for this Government in terms of upholding our obligation to that legally binding agreement? We need to hear more than simply kind words. The people of Hong Kong deserve better.
My Lords, I make it clear that the joint declaration remains as valid today as it did when it was signed over 35 years ago. It is a legally binding international treaty registered with the United Nations. We do not want to become hysterical. We do not consider that recent events represent a breach of the joint declaration. Having said that, we expect China to uphold that declaration. It is legally binding until 2047, and we would pursue a breach bilaterally if such a breach were to occur. We are perfectly clear about the status of that joint declaration, and we are perfectly clear that it endures until 2047.
My Lords, the noble Baroness said there has been no breach, but if you look at the statement from the Chinese foreign ministry, it must give her pause for thought. The spokesperson said that the joint declaration resolved the Hong Kong issue, that Hong Kong had been returned to the motherland, that China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong on 1 July 1997, that the UK no longer has any responsibility for Hong Kong and that,
“Hong Kong matters are purely an internal affair for China”,
that brook no foreign interference. What action, therefore, is the United Kingdom taking to ensure that this treaty, which is lodged at the UN, is upheld? Does she think that, in the wider context of the situation in Hong Kong, it becomes even more important that we work with our EU colleagues on this matter and that we support multilateral organisations such as the UN?
With reference to the last part of the noble Baroness’s question, yes of course we do. The United Kingdom is regarded as one of the most significant participants in United Nations proceedings. China’s interpretation of the situation is not one that we agree with. It is an interpretation which is at variance with the facts and the law. What we have done at the most senior level—indeed, the Prime Minister made the point repeatedly to Chinese Vice-Premier Hu on 17 June—is to say that we expect China to abide by its obligations, and we will continue to take seriously our obligations to monitor the implementation of the joint declaration. It is worth observing that we have a relationship with China which is broad and deep, and it brings enduring benefit to both countries. But we have a constructive dialogue and we are clear and direct where we disagree. Above all, our policy on China remains clear-eyed and evidence-based; it is rooted in our values and our interests. We will continue to stand by the joint declaration, and we will make that view robustly to the People’s Republic of China.
To what extent does my noble friend the Minister feel that the Legislative Council in Hong Kong is in any sense aware of the depth of feeling among the Hong Kong people? Does she not agree that attending to these concerns is not only in the wider interest but in the interests of China itself?
I thank my noble friend for his wise and profound observation. It is clear that the Hong Kong Legislative Council and the Chief Executive were taken aback by the potent sentiment expressed in the recent demonstrations. It is a positive development that they have suspended the extradition Bill, which seems a sensible precaution to take. But my noble friend is quite right that anything which undermines Hong Kong’s future success and prosperity, and hence its contribution to China, inevitably affects China and has an impact on that country. I would therefore have thought that China had an interest in ensuring that Hong Kong remains a prosperous, successful and viable economy, enjoying its strong rule of law and widely acclaimed judicial independence.
My Lords, will the Government press for an independent, judge-led inquiry into the events in Hong Kong since 12 June, rather than the police-led inquiry that is currently on offer from the Hong Kong legislature? Will that inquiry look into allegations of sexual violence against women perpetrated by the police, some of whom—the senior police—are British citizens?
We have urged the Hong Kong Government to establish a robust, independent investigation into the violence during the protests of 12 June, and that is a matter that Hong Kong must properly pursue. The noble Baroness makes important observations, and I am sure that in any independent investigation there will be a wide remit as to the scope of what the investigators seek to ascertain.
Does the Minister agree that it is unfortunate that the people who broke into the LegCo building and trashed it are actually playing into the hands of the Beijing Government, who will look for any opportunity to interfere in the affairs of Hong Kong if they see lawlessness in place? Would it be right to condemn those and urge people to return to peaceful demonstrations, which were shown to be successful with the withdrawal of the extradition Bill?
I thank the noble Lord. There was widespread concern about the violence that took place yesterday, and the Government have condemned it. He is correct that it is unnecessary and counterproductive. There was a lot of sympathy with the broad spread of the lawful protests, last month and yesterday. The majority of people seemed to perform them in a peaceful and lawful manner, which is to be commended. It is perfectly clear that, when people protest in that respectful and law-abiding manner, results can ensue. The noble Lord is quite correct that it is entirely counterproductive for anyone protesting to break the law and think that in some way it advances the cause of the protest.
We would advise anyone intending to visit any country to take the Foreign Office’s advice and pay attention to what that advice is. Last month and yesterday, there were significant protests of enormous scale, but nothing should detract from the fact that Hong Kong is a successful, prosperous society. It operates under the structure of “one country, two systems”; it has its own distinctive legal system and protection of human rights; it has its own rule of law and an independent judiciary. It will be for people to make their own judgment as to whether they travel there. As I say, for anyone travelling anywhere abroad we always advise double-checking with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
My Lords, the reality is that there is very little we can do, and we must not make meaningless threats. I commanded the battle group and the amphibious force off Hong Kong during the withdrawal. We had some very difficult incidents with the Chinese which we dealt with talking through back channels and getting agreements with them. Does the noble Baroness not agree that the way we must handle this is very quietly in the background? It seems to me that the Hong Kong police encouraged the violence by not being there, and they want to do that because of the effect they will then get from mainland China.
I thank the noble Lord. We try to ensure in our discussions with China that we are blunt, we are direct, we say exactly what we think and China is left in no doubt as to our feelings. He is correct. I think these matters are always better dealt with by dialogue and sometimes behind closed doors.
Does the Minister recall that, when the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal was established on 1 July 1997, it made a clear statement that it replaced the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council of London as the highest appellate court in Hong Kong after 30 June 1997. Can the noble Baroness say whether the Chinese Government in Beijing ever refuted that statement?
I am not aware of that. I am assuming that the Chinese Government are as well versed as my noble friend is in the legal system of Hong Kong. I am not aware of any such refutal of that situation. If I do learn of any such refutal, I shall let my noble friend know.