Hong Kong

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:09 pm on 10th June 2019.

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Photo of Mark Field Mark Field Minister of State 4:09 pm, 10th June 2019

The UK Government remain acutely aware of our enduring responsibility towards Hong Kong as one of the joint signatories to the 1984 joint declaration that established the principle of “one country, two systems”. This principle, underpinned by the common law system, provides Hong Kong with the foundations for its continued success as a truly global financial centre and prosperous world city.

Let me turn to the current issues around the ramifications of the Hong Kong Government’s contentious proposals to change their extradition laws. Yesterday’s huge protest march—peaceful right up until the end—was a clear demonstration of the strength of feeling in Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, has insisted that new legislation is needed to close a loophole that has prevented a Hong Kong national accused of murdering another Hong Kong national in Taiwan from facing justice, yet the Taiwanese Administration also oppose the changes, while civil society and business and legal groups in Hong Kong have expressed the strongest concerns about the content of the proposals and the very short consultation period.

Many fear above all that Hong Kong nationals and residents risk being pulled into China’s legal system, which can involve lengthy pre-trial detentions, televised confessions and an absence of many of the judicial safeguards that we see in Hong Kong and in the UK. While we welcome recent efforts by the Hong Kong Government to react to the unprecedented level of public concern—of the 7 million people living in Hong Kong, between 300,000 and 1 million were on the streets yesterday—the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is clear that the changes proposed fail to address fully some core issues that we and others have raised.

The UK Government have been unequivocal in their views. From the outset, the consul general, Andy Heyn, and my officials have been raising concerns with the Hong Kong Government, members of the Hong Kong Legislative Council and the Executive Council at all levels. We have also had full and detailed discussions with Chief Executive Carrie Lam, both bilaterally and as part of an EU démarche. On 30 May, the Foreign Secretary issued a joint statement with his Canadian counterpart on the potential impact of the proposals on our citizens in Hong Kong, including on business confidence and on Hong Kong’s international reputation.

Some Hong Kong lawmakers have proposed an array of alternative solutions, including that additional legally binding human rights safeguards be included in the proposed legislation. In my meeting in London on 20 May with Hong Kong Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, Edward Yau, I made it clear that proper consideration must be given to all these suggestions as part of a wider and more comprehensive consultation. More time for consultation would allow for a more adequate consensus to be built.

As the House will be aware, the operation of the court system on mainland China is very different from that which applies in Hong Kong. There are widespread concerns that fear of extradition to China might have a chilling effect on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms and result in increased self-censorship. We shall continue to stress to the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities that for confidence in the “one country, two systems” policy to be maintained, Hong Kong must enjoy the full measure of its high degree of autonomy and rule of law as set out in the joint declaration and enshrined in the Basic Law.