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China: Convictions of Democracy Campaigners in Hong Kong

Volume 811: debated on Tuesday 13 April 2021


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what representations they have made (1) to the authorities in Hong Kong, and (2) to the government of China, about the recent convictions of democracy campaigners in Hong Kong.

My Lords, we remain deeply concerned about the targeting of politicians and activists in Hong Kong and are following these cases closely. The apparent focus of the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities seems now to be on retribution against political opposition and the silencing of dissent. We continue to raise our concerns directly with the Hong Kong and the Chinese authorities, including this week with senior members of the Hong Kong Government. We urge the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to respect the rights and freedoms enshrined in the joint declaration.

I thank the Minister for his reply. This Friday my friend Lee Cheuk-yan, leader of Hong Kong’s independent trade unions, along with other democrats, is likely to be sentenced to years in jail for the crimes of peaceful protest, exercising freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. China’s blatant disregard for agreements and promises and its suppressions of freedoms must be halted.

I ask the UK Government, as a signatory of the Sino-British joint declaration, to lodge a formal complaint at the UN International Court of Justice against China for violating its international obligation. As China’s prosperity is built on trade with the west, I ask the UK Government, together with the United States and the European Union, jointly to tell China that if it continues to deny people their basic human rights, trading arrangements will be put at risk.

On the general thrust of the noble Lord’s suggestions, I assure him once again that we are not just working directly in raising these issues with the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities but are also doing it on a range of different issues with our key partners, including the United States and European Union.

On the ICJ, the noble Lord will be aware that the application of any decision of the ICJ requires the agreement of both parties. I suggest that in this instance China may not agree with any decision taken at that level. We are keeping the situation, which is fluid, under review to see what further steps we can take.

My Lords, may I first take this opportunity to thank the Minister. Within hours of discovering that I had been sanctioned by the Chinese for my work in this House and beyond in relation to the gross human rights abuses perpetrated by the Chinese Government against the Uighurs and the people in Hong Kong, he was a great support.

Can the Minister say whether the decision by the Chinese Government to sanction UK parliamentarians and convict—as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Jordan—decent, good pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong will finally lead to the announcement of Magnitsky sanctions on Hong Kong officials? They are clearly responsible for the dismantling of the city’s autonomy and for covering up human rights abuses.

I am sure I speak for every Member of your Lordship’s House in paying tribute to the noble Baroness and other parliamentarians, as well as others outside Parliament, who continue to raise their voices in the interests of the Uighur community within China.

On the noble Baroness’s specific points about Magnitsky sanctions, while I cannot speculate, recently we have taken specific steps against those operating in Xinjiang, as I am sure the noble Baroness acknowledges. As I said earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Jordan, we continue to see what further steps we may take.

My Lords, it is welcome that BNO passport holders have a route to UK citizenship, but the current crackdown shows how vital it is that younger people who may not have that entitlement are also protected. What action is being taken to extend these rights to those who do not hold BNO passports?

I will first share with the noble Baroness that the BNO passport route and applications for BNO are functioning smoothly and effectively. On her second point about those who do not qualify for BNO status, if there are specific individuals who raise issues of concern and security and claim asylum within the confines of the United Kingdom, we look at those cases directly and individually.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Jordan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, whose work in this field is hugely appreciated and acknowledged. Will the Government not only to make representations but, with our allies, to take real and practical steps to bring home to the PCR and the Carrie Lam Administration in Hong Kong that repression will not work? It makes them look ridiculous and should not be pursued.

I totally agree with my noble friend’s second point and I assure him that we are working directly with partners. He will be aware that on 9 January the Foreign Secretary released a statement with Australian, Canadian and US counter- parts on the mass arrests. On 13 March the Foreign Secretary issued a statement declaring a breach of the joint declaration. We continue to work with partners on further steps we may need to take.

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, in thanking the Minister for his support following the imposition of sanctions. I declare that I serve as vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong and as a patron of Hong Kong Watch. Has the Minister noted that, following the Chinese Communist Party’s sanctions on European Union parliamentarians, major parties in the European Parliament have indicated that until sanctions against their MEPs are lifted they will not ratify the European Union comprehensive agreement on investment with China? While sanctions attempting to curtail free speech are imposed on UK parliamentarians, are the Government willing to make a commitment today to take similar action and see how concerted measures can be taken to ensure that parliamentary free speech is not impeded?

My Lords, I note what the noble Lord has said. Again, I pay tribute to his work in standing up for the rights of people in both China and Hong Kong. We will continue to observe and work with our partners to see what further steps we can take. I cannot answer the specific point he raised on trade, and nor would he expect me to at this juncture, but, in terms of our relationship, we are keeping all things actively under review.

My Lords, I also pay tribute to my noble friend for the terrific work that she has done and for standing up to the bullies of the Chinese Communist Party. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is important that we are able to respond quickly and effectively, and that means working with our allies. It is now more than a month since the US applied sanctions to Hong Kong officials. Why is it taking us so long? Why are we not working with the United States to ensure that these bullies are stood up to?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we are working with the United States. However, in applying any sanctions to anyone across the world, or to any organisation, we need to ensure that, with the robust test that we have set up with the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act, they are fully justified and can be defended.

My Lords, on page 63 of the integrated review the Government say:

“We will not hesitate to stand up for our values and our interests where they are threatened, or when China acts in breach of existing agreements.”

How successful have we been in standing up for our values and interests in relation to Hong Kong?

My Lords, we have been successful. For example, following the action we have taken in the context of the Human Rights Council, there has been an increase in the number of countries supporting the United Kingdom’s statements, not just on Hong Kong but on Xinjiang as well.

My Lords, domestic Ministers are currently making preparations across various departments to welcome Hong Kong British national (overseas) passport holders and to ensure that their settlement works well across the four nations. However, I am concerned about some of the families and friends that they leave behind in Hong Kong. Is the Foreign Office making representations to ensure that the families of any of those who take up visas and settle in the UK are not facing retribution?

My Lords, I reassure the noble Baroness that BNO status is a generous scheme and extends to family members. As I said in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, if specific issues arise with individuals who do not qualify, wherever they may be in the world, the United Kingdom has always been generous in providing protection and I am sure will continue to be so.

My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that the obliteration of democracy in Hong Kong and the persecution of the innocent is simply following the playbook of Germany in the 1930s? A one-party state is tolerating no dissent, treating Taiwan like the Sudetenland, threatening its neighbours, exterminating a religious minority and building a massive military machine preparing for war. Will my noble friend the Minister please tell China that we will form every alliance possible in the world to challenge it?

My Lords, I say to my noble friend that Hong Kong’s prosperity and its way of life rely on the respect for fundamental freedoms, an independent judiciary and the rule of law. I further assure him that we will continue to bring together our international partners—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins—to stand up for the people of Hong Kong, to call out the violation of their rights and to hold China to the obligations it freely assumed under international law. We will continue to work in that respect.

My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has elapsed and it brings Question Time to an end. We move now to the Private Notice Question on Northern Ireland and the Good Friday agreement. I call the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick.