Skip to main content

Hong Kong: Bounties for Exiled Pro-democracy Activists

Volume 831: debated on Thursday 6 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what action, if any, they have taken in response to the issuing of arrest warrants, including offers of bounties, by police in Hong Kong for eight self-exiled pro-democracy activists.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare a non-financial interest as the patron of Hong Kong Watch.

My Lords, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said, we will not tolerate any attempts by the Chinese authorities to intimidate individuals in the United Kingdom. Let me be absolutely clear: Hong Kong’s national security law has no jurisdiction here. As the noble Lord will be aware, we suspended our extradition agreement with Hong Kong indefinitely in 2020. We continue to call on Beijing and Hong Kong to end the targeting of those who stand up for freedom and democracy.

My Lords, as always, I am grateful to the Minister for his response. But with bounties of 1 million Hong Kong dollars now on the heads of eight exiled Hong Kongers, 1,200 pro-democracy activists and advocates incarcerated in Hong Kong, including the British citizen Jimmy Lai, and seven parliamentarians—two from your Lordships’ House—sanctioned by the Chinese Communist Party, how can the Minister justify the Government’s decision to send a Trade Minister from your Lordships’ House recently to Hong Kong to deepen business ties? How does he respond to the calls last night from his noble friend, the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, calling on the remaining British judges to withdraw from the Hong Kong courts rather than giving them the thin veneer of respectability?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, he will be aware that we have been very critical of the fact that the justice systems in Hong Kong are not as per the agreement signed with the United Kingdom Government when we ceased our control of Hong Kong. Many individual judges have made key decisions and we hope that those who are still operating in Hong Kong will continue to consider their own status and professional standing in light of decisions they make for the future.

On his first point, of course we recognise the issue of those who have been sanctioned: that is why my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary recently met those British parliamentarians who have been sanctioned, and those meetings will continue. We are also aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, has highlighted the recent warrants issued to people within the United Kingdom. That is why it is important to emphasise the suspension of that extradition treaty.

On the third element, the Trade Minister’s visit, of course we have relations with China; we continue to have diplomatic relations. I have said before from the Dispatch Box that we have many disagreements with China; I am the Human Rights Minister. We have campaigned and led the charge, for example, on statements on Xinjiang, which I am very grateful for the noble Lord’s input into, but equally we recognise that there are key global issues where China has a role to play and where engagement is important. When we have engagement on the trade side, my noble friend Lord Johnson also raised the important issue of human rights directly and publicly during his visit.

My Lords, I think it probably is time for the remaining British judges to withdraw from Hong Kong—I think that is in the Minister’s mind as well. Although the British never offered full democracy to Hong Kong, at least we did not go around hunting distinguished pro-democracy campaigners, putting bounties on their heads and trying to arrest them in the middle of the night. Will he nudge his colleagues to remind their Chinese counterparts again that if China ever wants to be treated seriously as a civilised nation, it has to behave in a much more civilised and less thuggish way?

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. It is important that, if China wishes to sustain and strengthen the position of Hong Kong on the global stage, it not only adheres to what it was a signatory to but recognises that there are important elements in recognising the vibrancy of any financial centre. I spent 20 years in the financial services sector and dealt extensively with areas in China and Hong Kong. One of the points we need to emphasise as a Government is that the vibrancy of a financial centre is protected through the transparency of justice systems and the very transparent application of laws. The national security law in China is set up to intimidate, prosecute and arrest and detain innocent individuals, Jimmy Lai being just one example. I assure my noble friend that we will continue to make that case forcefully, directly and bilaterally, to the Chinese Administration as well as to those in authority in Hong Kong.

My Lords, as your Lordships know, along with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, I have been sanctioned by the Chinese, and it is not just me but my whole family. The long arm of China is something we have to be very conscious of. It is now described by lawyers internationally as transnational suppression. Many nations are now doing this: their reach goes beyond their own borders when they oppress their citizens. We have seen it with Russia and Iran and we are seeing it with China. What concerns young Hong Kongers who live in this country is that they might not be able to travel. They are fearful that, in transit, they will be arrested by less hospitable, less human rights-concerned nations and transported back to either Hong Kong or China to be prosecuted.

The threat to the safety of those who have had these bounties placed on their heads is very serious and real. We have to remember that a police station was set up in Glasgow where arrests could be made and intimidation applied to people who have settled in this country because of their fears. I ask the Minister, who I know is very sensitive to all this, what the Government are doing in their conversations with China and with the leaders in Hong Kong. Why are more of them not put on targeted Magnitsky sanctions lists? I want to hear what the Government do when they meet Chinese officials.

My Lords, I know these things directly from our conversations and I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her valuable insights. Equally, I know the great challenges imposed on many colleagues, both in this House and in the other place. Indeed, there are members of His Majesty’s Government who are now Ministers and are subject to the sanctions she listed. On the issue of future Magnitsky sanctions, I am proud of our record across the piece. We continue to look at all our levers to ensure that those who commit egregious abuses of human rights are held to account.

On the specific transnational issues, my right honourable friend the Security Minister, Tom Tugendhat, who has himself experienced the impact of sanctions, has been directing the Defending Democracy Taskforce to review our UK approach to transnational repression, specifically with China and Hong Kong. Let me be very clear: there are three major things we ask consistently. We call on Beijing to remove the national security law; that has to happen. We consider China to be in an ongoing state of non-compliance with the Sino-British joint declaration, which is why we suspended our extradition agreement. We continue to work with other partners, including agencies such as Interpol, to ensure that there are no abuses of these international agencies as well.

My Lords, what specific steps will the Government take to work with our international partners to protect those eight individuals?

My Lords, we do work with our international partners, but we also ensure that particularly those under UK jurisdiction are fully protected. Individuals who may be at heightened risk are provided full support, including protective security guidance and other measures where necessary. I will not go into the specific details, but I assure my noble friend that we work with key partners to ensure that these protections are afforded not just in the United Kingdom but, as has been indicated by two noble Lords with their own concerns and those of their families, when they travel internationally.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his answers, but does he not agree that this case is yet further evidence for the revisionist tendencies of the Chinese Government when it comes to human rights? This tendency will only intensify as China tries to use its economic and political muscle to mute its critics, so does it not underscore the importance of His Majesty’s Government working tirelessly to revive the spirit of universality that originally inspired the human rights project in upholding core rights and freedoms?

My Lords, I agree with the right reverend Prelate. China is a member of many international organisations, including as a P5 member of the United Nations. It continues to subscribe to many of the key charters of these organisations, including the UN, and what he has related is very much part of its alignment with them. We need to keep making the case. The economic dependence of many countries across the world is very clear. That economic dependency extends not just to a five-year or 10-year period but is often across a generation, and we need to ensure that there are alternatives. It is not enough just to say that we are standing up for the principles against the sometimes disabling effect of some of the quite eye-watering deals that are done; we need to ensure that we work with key partners to offer co-ordinated alternative responses for long-term infrastructure and development in key parts of the world.