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Hong Kong: Political Situation

Volume 806: debated on Tuesday 29 September 2020


Asked by

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

My Lords, we are deeply concerned by the situation in Hong Kong. The new national security law is a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British joint declaration and directly threatens a number of Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms. The UK will not look the other way on Hong Kong and we will not duck our historic responsibilities to its people. We will continue working with partners to hold China to its international obligations.

My Lords, China has broken its treaty obligations—I am sure the Minister agrees that we must never do the same with any of ours—suspended elections in Hong Kong, and compromised the judiciary, the free press and free speech. Will the Government extend the pathway to citizenship beyond BNO passport holders to the many young Hong Kongers who are currently excluded, but are particularly vulnerable to intimidation and arbitrary arrest?

My Lords, I agree that the situation for all people in Hong Kong is challenging at the moment. Recent arrests after the national security law was brought in have put that into focus. The BNO route, which was announced by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, provides direct assistance, as we promised. Anyone else, from anywhere in the world, who seeks the protection of the UK because of persecution will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

My Lords, the introduction and implementation of the national security law by China has rightly been described as a watershed moment for human rights and academic and press freedoms. One part of the Government’s response that we have heard about is the fast-track UK citizenship proposal, but I ask the Minister to say more about how this pathway is to be implemented, how many he expects to tread this route and whether there will be a transparent process for taking up these opportunities.

My Lords, we have already announced how that route will operate. As I previously said, around 2.9 million people currently in Hong Kong qualify for BNO status and will be allowed to apply for the scheme.

My Lords, how can Her Majesty’s Government credibly condemn China for reneging on the Sino-British declaration, when they threaten to renege on the EU withdrawal agreement?

My Lords, I am proud that Her Majesty’s Government have stood up and will continue to stand up for the rights of all citizens around the world who are subjected to persecution and human rights abuses. We have a special responsibility to Hong Kong and we continue to raise the broader issue of the abuse of human rights in China. The United Kingdom continues to defend and stand up for international law and the international rules-based system.

My Lords, can my noble friend tell us what effect the deteriorating situation and restrictions on academic freedom, in particular those imposed by the new national security law—for example, students and teachers are being required to monitor each other’s compliance—are having or are likely to have on British schools, universities and teachers operating in Hong Kong? What is the impact on the work of the British Council?

My Lords, my noble friend raises important points. We continue to review the situation in Hong Kong. Recent arrests of pro-democracy activists have been particularly concerning, but I assure my noble friend that we continue to ensure appropriate protections for all British citizens within Hong Kong.

My Lords, is not the answer, when dealing with the multiple challenges of a resurgent China, to create alliances with like-minded countries and to be willing to confront or contain, as appropriate?

I agree with the noble Lord. It is why, at the last Human Rights Council, the UK led a statement of 28 like-minded countries. As I am sure the noble Lord followed, on 25 September, I delivered a statement standing up for this, which was supported by many international partners.

My Lords, after the violent and public arrest of a 12 year-old girl, what representation have the Government made to the Hong Kong Executive to investigate police brutality through an independent and judge-led inquiry?

My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point about the independence of the judiciary in Hong Kong. That is why we are concerned about the implications of the national security law. We continue to raise issues around the case she has mentioned, alongside those of other under-18s who have been arrested, with the Hong Kong authorities and bilaterally with China.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong and a patron of Hong Kong Watch. Can the Minister comment on the arrest, and detention in a jail in Shenzhen, of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Andy Li, whom I met while monitoring elections in Hong Kong last year? I have sent the details to the Minister. What are we doing to ensure that his family have access to him, that he is returned safely and unharmed to Hong Kong, and that due process is observed?

My Lords, FCDO officials in Hong Kong raised specific concerns about these cases with the Chinese authorities on 23 September, and I assure the noble Lord that we will continue to do so.

My Lords, I return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Campbell. It is clear that we need to build international support for the people of Hong Kong. The Government have indicated that they are open to supporting a dedicated UN envoy for the crisis in Hong Kong. With recent press reports of an even stronger clampdown on freedoms, is it not time for the UK to spearhead a campaign for such an envoy and to bring other countries on board—to lead, rather than follow?

I am sure the noble Lord agrees that we are leading. The United Kingdom led the two joint statements that were made through the UN machinery. I already mentioned the recent statement I made at the Human Rights Council. Equally, at my recent meeting with the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, we again stressed the importance of her visit, both for unfettered access to Xinjiang and to monitor the human rights situation in China more generally.

My Lords, at the UN Human Rights Council last week, the Minister noted that 1.8 million people have so far been detained without trial under Hong Kong’s national security law. Will the UK respond with actions that include, for example, campaigning to suspend extradition treaties with Hong Kong and China to prevent extradition under this draconian law? What about introducing Magnitsky-style sanctions on the perpetrators of human rights abuses under the national security law?

My Lords, the UK has already suspended the extradition treaty with Hong Kong and applies the same rules to China. On Magnitsky sanctions, as I have said before, I will not speculate on future sanctions.

My Lords, how many of the 2.9 million BNO passport holders have responded to the offer of an immigration visa? Have the Government reached a decision on the Hong Kong Military Service Corps veterans’ appeal to be granted full British citizen passports, which was first raised six years ago, or replied to the 64 individual veterans’ applications sent to the Home Secretary in March?

My Lords, on the first question, this is an ongoing process. I do not have a specific figure, nor do I think it would serve a specific purpose. The scheme is open to all 2.9 million and we will continue to support any applications. On the point about former military personnel, as the noble and gallant Lord knows, a proportion of the Hong Kong Military Service Corps hold British dependent territory citizen status. That now translates to BNO status. On his wider point about those who remain, officials continue to have discussions with Home Office colleagues.

My Lords, some 20 years ago, I set up and ran a Hong Kong committee within the China group to inform itself of what was going on in China. Would it be a good idea for the Government to set up something like this again?

My Lords, I note my noble friend’s suggestion and will reflect on it. I assure my noble friend and all noble Lords that we are watching the situation in China specifically, particularly that of human rights in Hong Kong and Xinjiang. I have said before, and reiterate, that we want a progressive relationship with China. China it is an important partner on the world stage, when it comes to the challenges of climate change and the Covid pandemic. Therefore, it is important that it stands up for the rights not just of others but of its own citizens. We will continue to raise issues of the abuse of human rights anywhere in the world.