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Hong Kong

Volume 801: debated on Wednesday 15 January 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the situation in Hong Kong, including the recent elections, continuing protests, allegations of police brutality and the arrest of media and humanitarian workers.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare that I travelled to Hong Kong to monitor the recent elections as a guest of Stand With Hong Kong and Hong Kong Watch, of which I am a patron.

My Lords, we remain concerned at the situation in Hong Kong. The Foreign Secretary welcomed the peaceful conduct of local elections, and we continue to urge all sides to take the opportunity to find a way through with meaningful political dialogue. It is essential that protests are conducted peacefully and lawfully, and that the authorities respond proportionately. We expect arrests and judicial processes to be both fair and transparent, and we have consistently called for a robust, credible and, indeed, independent investigation.

My Lords, in welcoming that reply from the Minister, perhaps I might ask how the Government will respond to the evidence given to Parliament by Dr Darren Mann about the police arrest and zip-wiring of medics, which he said amounted to

“grave breaches of international norms and human rights law.”

He described disproportionate brutality, including the shooting of rubber bullets at close range and the use of tear gas in confined areas. Does the Minister agree that this is in contravention of the United Nations guidelines on the use of less-lethal weapons and breaks international law? Does not the arrest of a young woman outside our own consulate at the weekend mean that it is time for us to demand an independent inquiry, as the Minister said, and for us to take the lead in establishing it and explore the use of Magnitsky-type powers to bring the perpetrators to justice?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s final point, as he will be aware, bringing forward Magnitsky-style powers through a sanctions policy is something we are looking at proactively at the Foreign Office, and we will be coming forward with recommendations in the near future. He raises important issues, and we pay tribute to his work in Hong Kong and in consistently raising this issue. We take the allegations set out by Dr Mann’s description of the arrest of medical personnel at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University very seriously. As we have said time and again, we also expect the Hong Kong authorities to abide by their own laws and international obligations.

As I said in my original Answer, we believe that an independent inquiry into events in Hong Kong is a critical step, and the UK has repeatedly called for such an independent inquiry to take place. The noble Lord mentioned a recent arrest outside the British consulate-general. I assure the noble Lord that the UK fully supports the right to peaceful and lawful protest. Indeed, as he will know, a static protest has been in place outside the British consulate-general in Hong Kong for a number of months now.

Is my noble friend aware of the reports of police secreting themselves in ambulances, thereby putting at risk the neutrality of the medical services?

My Lords, there are many reports around the recent situation and unrest in Hong Kong. My noble friend raises one particular issue. Suffice it to say that we take note of any such news stories and ensure that there is an evidence base in support of them. There will be protests and injuries. I assure my noble friend that we continue to implore the Hong Kong authorities to act to support those attending to those injured through such protests to give the right medical attention as soon as possible.

My Lords, having just returned from the gas attacks in Hong Kong as a visitor and guest of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, I feel that it is really important that the Government understand and represent fairly the issues for the academic community. I talked extensively to the vice-chancellor of the university, who is massively torn between his need to protect his students and obeying what is required by law. Any noise and representation that the Government can make is therefore of immense importance, given the loneliness and difficulties they face at present.

I assure the noble Lord that we take very seriously our responsibilities in raising the issues around the protests and the response to those protests. We raise issues consistently both with the Hong Kong authorities and indeed with Chinese counterparts. The noble Lord said he has just returned from a visit. It is important to get a real insight into issues on the ground and, if the noble Lord is willing, I will seek to sit down with him to discuss his views and insights in more detail.

My Lords, having heard what the doctor said about how medical personnel in Hong Kong deal with the injured—be they protesters, policemen, journalists or bystanders—it is surely intolerable that their work should be interfered with in any way. Given that the Sino-British agreement is registered internationally, should we not be much more assertive in protecting humanitarian law?

I agree with the noble Lord, and think that it is right, whether we are talking about Hong Kong or anywhere else in the world, that medical professionals, when they are seeking to assist those injured, whatever the reason for the injury, are given unfettered access. As I have said on a number of occasions from the Dispatch Box, we are absolutely committed to the agreement. Indeed, as the noble Lord may be aware, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary released a statement on the 35th anniversary of the joint declaration in which he said:

“This agreement between the UK and China made clear that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, rights and freedoms would remain unchanged for 50 years. The undertakings made by China, including the right to freedom of expression, an independent judiciary and the rule of law, are essential to Hong Kong’s prosperity and way of life.”

We stand by that.

Is there anything further that Her Majesty’s Government can do in this very difficult situation—perhaps in diplomatic terms, at the UN or wherever—to hold the behaviour of the Chinese up to the scrutiny of the whole world? It is not only the awful thing in Hong Kong, which the noble Lord, Lord Steel, has just spoken of, but also the Uighurs in the province of Xinjiang. It is shocking and should be exposed to the whole world.

My noble friend raises some very important points. I assure him that that we take seriously our responsibilities to raise the issues both of Hong Kong and of the Uighurs in Xinjiang. As the UK’s Human Rights Minister I have taken this forward and, during our formal statements at the Human Rights Council, I have directly raised the issue of the Uighur community, as well other persecuted minorities in China.