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Hong Kong

Volume 804: debated on Tuesday 21 July 2020


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the political situation in Hong Kong.

My Lords, we are deeply concerned by the situation in Hong Kong. China’s new national security law breaches the Sino-British joint declaration and directly threatens a number of Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms. Early reports of the law’s initial implementation are also troubling. We will not look the other way on Hong Kong and we will continue working with partners to hold China to its international obligations.

I thank the Minister. What prospects are there for fair and free elections in Hong Kong this autumn and what steps are the Government taking to assist young activists, such as Joshua Wong, who are not BNO passport holders?

My Lords, obviously there have been elections even this year at local level. We continue to impress on the Hong Kong authorities and the Chinese authorities the need to ensure that “one country, two systems” is sustained, maintained and, indeed, strengthened. However, recent events have indicated otherwise and we continue to lobby both Administrations in this respect, including protecting those people who do not qualify for BNO status.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of the statement by the Chinese ambassador a few days ago that we were interfering in China’s internal affairs. Will the Minister make it clear that this is entirely a breach of the Sino-British agreement and that it is not a breach of Chinese internal affairs to stick by the terms of an international treaty? Will he ensure that the widest number of countries take our position of understanding and give us support?

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord. The agreement on "one country, two systems" that we signed with the Chinese authorities is registered with the UN. China is a P5 member and has international obligations. Therefore, we believe that standing up for the rights of Hong Kong nationals as well as BNOs is absolutely the right thing to do. I assure the noble Lord that we are working with international partners to ensure that we get broad support for the United Kingdom’s position. Indeed, as we saw recently at the Human Rights Council, that is happening.

My Lords, there was cross-party support for the Foreign Secretary’s shock at seeing the persecution of minorities in China and the suppression of peaceful protestors in Hong Kong. People may also be shocked to know that the Government have given export licences for British-made tear gas, which, according to Amnesty International, is being used against peaceful protestors in Hong Kong, and have granted government export licences for spyware, wire-tapping and surveillance technologies. Will the Minister ensure that the UK’s strategic export control lists are now updated so that no British-made technology can be used in the suppression of minorities or against peaceful protestors in Hong Kong?

My Lords, as I am sure the noble Lord has noted, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary made a Statement yesterday in the House extending the embargo on arms sales to mainland China, which will now also be applied to Hong Kong.

My Lords, the appointment of senior judges to give service in Hong Kong is an important part of its international character. What are the prospects of that continuing?

My Lords, my noble and learned friend is right to raise this important issue. As we have seen in recent announcements, the appointment of judges has passed to the chief executive, but we also note the important announcement of Lord Reed, who made it clear in his statement on Friday 17 July that whether this practice continues will depend on if such a service remains compatible with judicial independence and the rule of law.

My Lords, while I support the actions of the Government, I urge them to consider the ordinary people and companies in Hong Kong who accept the new security law in order to make a livelihood. Please can the Minister confirm that any action taken by the Government is proportionate and supports the rights of both the Hong Kong people and of British and other companies operating there, such as the Hong Kong bank, Standard Chartered, Swire and Jardine, to go about their normal lives and conduct their businesses in this changed environment without gratuitous criticism and recrimination?

My Lords, I draw the attention of the noble Lord to the opening paragraphs of the Statement made by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. They stress again that we see China as an important strategic partner and that we believe that it has a positive role to play on the international stage. However, it must fulfil its international obligations. I cannot speak for private companies, but our challenge is not with them or indeed with the normal citizens of Hong Kong. We believe that their rights should be respected by the Hong Kong Administration and the Chinese authorities. That is what we are standing up for.

My Lords, at the beginning of June, the Foreign Secretary suggested that the new Magnitsky powers might be an option in respect of the police brutality and other actions in Hong Kong. Yesterday, in respect of the national security legislation, he said:

“We will patiently gather the evidence, which takes months.”—[Official Report, Commons, 20/7/20; col. 1835.]

What of the clear evidence of Chinese officials being involved in forced organ harvesting and the oppression of the Uighur people? Does the Minister agree that the Government should accelerate the timetable for the Magnitsky sanctions to be imposed on those Chinese officials who are involved in such persecution?

My Lords, I have made clear on a number of occasions my strong concerns and the fact that Her Majesty’s Government have raised the issues of what is happening with the Uighur people and other minority communities in China. On the specific point about the Magnitsky sanctions, the noble Lord will respect the fact that it is not right to speculate about what any future designations may be.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware that Hong Kong is just one of the UK’s responsibilities, shared or otherwise, in the Indo-Pacific region. These include, for example, the Korean peninsula and the five power defence arrangements that protect Singapore and Malaysia. In the context of global Britain and the reversal of the east of Suez policy, will the Government provide the details of our international obligations for Hong Kong and the region and confirm that they have the funds and the capacity to meet them?

My Lords, we believe in a strong, stable and safe Indo-Pacific region. We have stood up for Hong Kong on the basis of our strong belief in principles and in law and we stand firmly in support of the agreement, which has been deposited with the UN. On our wider responsibilities, we continue to work with our international partners in pursuit of those objectives.

My Lords, I declare my position as a co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong. Can the noble Lord the Minister say what steps the UK Government are taking to protect students from Hong Kong and students who might be supporting the rights of the people of Hong Kong in British universities, given the significant evidence of intimidation? What protection will be given to academics and institutions that stand up against such efforts?

My Lords, the answer is simple. Anyone who breaks the law in the UK by hounding or attempting to intimidate students will be held to account according to the law of the land, which is our law.

My Lords, I join those who have pressed further on the main issues relating to Hong Kong, including breaches of the joint declaration, the threats to freedom of speech and assembly and the need for democratic elections. My specific question for the Minister is to ask whether talks in relation to the situation in Hong Kong have been held at the Commonwealth level, given that, as a former overseas territory, Hong Kong was once part of the Commonwealth. This could be particularly relevant for young people and students who may wish to pursue their studies not only in the UK but in other parts of the Commonwealth.

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we are working in that context with all our partners in the G7 and at the UN. We are also working with Commonwealth nations such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, which are supportive of the UK Government’s position.

My Lords, will the loyal veterans of Her Majesty’s Hong Kong Military Service Corps still living in Hong Kong, who have long petitioned Her Majesty’s Government for the right of abode in the UK, be granted this now? Will their request for full British passports, which all other members of the corps retained before 1997, be agreed, in line with the statutory provision for fairness in the military covenant?

My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord has raised this issue consistently and regularly both with me and with my noble friend the Minister of State at the Home Office. Since our last exchange, I have written to the Home Office and I am awaiting a reply. When I receive one, I will update the noble and gallant Lord accordingly.