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Hong Kong

Volume 799: debated on Tuesday 3 September 2019

Private Notice Question

Asked by

My Lords, we are deeply concerned about the serious situation in Hong Kong. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister discussed developments with other leaders at the G7 summit, and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has recently spoken to Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and Chief Executive Carrie Lam. We condemn violence but support the right to peaceful and lawful protest. Meaningful political dialogue taken forward by Hong Kong under its high degree of autonomy is the best way to resolve the current impasse.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that statement. Does he note that the crisis is fast escalating, that the police appear to be acting with impunity and that Carrie Lam apparently feels that she has no autonomy? The Government have been very silent, certainly in public, on Hong Kong recently; they may be distracted, but what action are they taking, especially as we will shortly be coming up to the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the establishment of the People’s Republic of China? What is the Government’s view of proposals for a second UK or Commonwealth citizenship for Hong Kong citizens?

My Lords, I first reassure the noble Baroness and your Lordships’ House that the Government are taking the situation in Hong Kong very seriously. As I have alluded to, my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary have spoken to their respective counterparts—and, in the case of the Prime Minister, to other members of the G7. The permanent under-secretary has also summoned the Chinese ambassador to relay our deep concerns. On the wider issue of citizenship, current citizens of Hong Kong enjoy the BNO category, which was created, as the noble Baroness knows, in 1985 and gives certain rights. It remains our view that, within the agreement signed by the Chinese and British Governments, protections offered to those citizens should prevail. On the issue of the police acting with impunity, we impress on the Hong Kong authorities that they should ensure that those committing acts of violence—whichever side they may be on—are brought to justice and held accountable. That includes those enforcing the law.

My Lords, people are protesting on the streets of Hong Kong for their judicial independence, their human rights and their democratic freedoms—the three principles the 1984 agreement between the People’s Republic of China and the United Kingdom was designed to protect. Can the noble Lord tell the House when the Government will demand loudly and clearly that China respect this agreement?

I assure the noble Lord that we are doing just that. We have impressed on the Chinese Government and the Hong Kong authorities that they should ensure that the attributes and provisions of the agreement are upheld. The agreement was signed by both parties. It was also deposited and is registered within the United Nations. It is our view that all rights and principles in that agreement have to be respected, not just by Hong Kong but by the Chinese authorities as well.

My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my interest as a patron of Hong Kong Watch. Will the Minister take the trouble to look at the Early Day Motion tabled today in the House of Commons by almost 30 Members of Parliament—led by the chairman of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, Fiona Bruce MP, and signed by the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, the current leader of the Scottish National Party in the House of Commons, senior Labour Members of Parliament and Members of other parties—calling for the Government to put on the Commonwealth agenda, not least at Kigali next year, the question of second citizenship, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about, and to explore ways in which the international community can provide an insurance policy for people in Hong Kong who feel that “one country, two systems” is now slipping away? Is this not the sort of thing that the British Government should take the lead on?

First, let me reassure the noble Lord that we seek to uphold “one country, two systems” and will call on the Chinese authorities and the authorities in Hong Kong to do the same. As I said in answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, this is an international agreement whose principles should be abided by. I will certainly take the issue of the Early Day Motion back and look at the detail. I assure noble Lords that the important thing is that we continue to raise through all international and bilateral channels the importance of upholding the rights of, and obligations to, the citizens of Hong Kong.

My Lords, much of the prosperity of Hong Kong depends on confidence. Is there not clear evidence now that much of the business community has been relocated or is considering relocating to Singapore, which would be much against the interests of the Government of China? Are we not making it clear to China that to be in breach of the joint agreement is to be in breach of its interests in this matter?

I believe that, thus far, the Chinese authorities have shown restraint, which we welcome. Clearly, as I said in my Answer to the original Question, law and order in Hong Kong is of deep concern to us. The noble Lord raises the important issue of future investment in Hong Kong. As we have seen, the eyes of the media and the world are on the situation in Hong Kong; that will not be lost on investors. He makes an important point about political and economic stability in a given territory. I am sure that any business making a decision in respect of Hong Kong will look at that very carefully.

My Lords, what has been happening recently in Hong Kong is very distressing. What started with large demonstrations against the extradition treaty—probably better called the fugitive offenders ordinance—by people who are well-intentioned, but many of whom probably misunderstood what was behind the proposal, has deteriorated into the sort of violence that is not the custom in Hong Kong; it is not the way that things happen there. That is worrying indeed. Does the Minister accept, however, that outside involvement in this is unlikely to be helpful? The key thing is for the Hong Kong Government, without outside pressure, to find ways to take this forward, possibly through a judge-led inquiry into what has gone on, and to establish a dialogue with those who have been protesting. One hopes that among that is the way to bring this situation back to the more normal way in which Hong Kong carries out its affairs.

The noble Lord speaks about the situation on the ground with great insight. I agree with him, which is why we have consistently raised the importance of the Hong Kong authorities—particularly the Chief Executive, Carrie Lam—having a constructive dialogue with the people. According to Carrie Lam herself, it is a fact that the original proposal on which these protests were based is dead. I note that it has not yet been formally withdrawn; we are watching that very carefully. On the more general issue, it is important that Hong Kong resolves its issues within the parameters of both the agreement that has been signed and the autonomy it enjoys. On the broader issue of human rights, particularly those raised directly with the United Kingdom, wherever we see human rights usurped and the rights of citizens denied, we will raise our voice as a strong voice for human rights around the world. We have raised our deep concerns with both the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities on this issue.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the deal the Thatcher Government did with China was wise but did not cater for full-scale democracy in Hong Kong? While there is hope that the situation may move towards that, I suggest that the right posture for the time being is the deal done with China by the Thatcher Government.

I assure my noble friend that we continue to impress on both the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities, in the bilateral engagement that we have had, the importance of the principles of the agreement that guaranteed autonomy for Hong Kong. It is something that should be held; it has held thus far. Despite historic pressures, “one country, two systems” has largely held together. It is important that it continues to do so, for the agreement runs until 2047. We hope the rights enshrined in that agreement will also be upheld thereafter.

My Lords, what does it say about mainland China’s attitude to the two systems that Hong Kong has a Chief Executive who seems to believe she does not have the autonomy to withdraw the offending Bill entirely and does not even think she has the autonomy to resign?

The Chief Executive can speak for herself. From our perspective, the important thing is to ensure that the principles of the Sino-British agreement are upheld and—as I have said and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, pointed out—that the rights and obligations under “one country, two systems” are upheld for all citizens.