The following Statement was made on Monday 20 July in the House of Commons.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I will make a Statement updating the House on the latest developments with respect to China, and in particular Hong Kong.
As I told the House on
China is also the world’s biggest investor in renewable technology, and it will be an essential global partner when it comes to tackling global climate change. The Chinese people travel, study and work all over the world, making an extraordinary contribution.
Let me be clear: we want to work with China. There is enormous scope for positive, constructive engagement. There are wide-ranging opportunities, from increasing trade to co-operation in tackling climate change, particularly with a view to the COP 26 summit next year, which the UK will be hosting. However, as we strive for that positive relationship, we are also clear-sighted about the challenges that lie ahead. We will always protect our vital interests, including sensitive infrastructure, and we will not accept any investment that compromises our domestic or national security. We will be clear where we disagree, and I have been clear about our grave concerns regarding the gross human rights abuses being perpetrated against the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang.
It is precisely because we recognise China’s role in the world as a fellow member of the G20, and fellow permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, that we expect China to live up to the international obligations and responsibilities that come with that stature. That is the positive, constructive, mature and reciprocal relationship that we seek with China, striving for good co-operation, but being honest and clear where we have to disagree. We have been clear about the new national security law that China has imposed on the people of Hong Kong. That is a clear and serious violation of the UK-China joint declaration, and with it a violation of China’s freely assumed international obligations.
Beyond our offer to BNOs, today we are taking two further measures, which are a necessary and proportionate response to the new national security legislation that we have now had the opportunity to assess carefully. First, given the role that China has now assumed for the internal security of Hong Kong, and the authority that it is exerting over law enforcement, the UK will extend to Hong Kong the arms embargo that we have applied to mainland China since 1989. To be clear, the extension of the embargo will mean there will be no exports from the UK to Hong Kong of potentially lethal weapons, their components or ammunition, and it will also meet a ban on the export of any equipment not already banned that might be used for internal repression, such as shackles, intercept equipment, firearms and smoke grenades.
The second measure relates to the fact that the imposition of this new national security legislation has significantly changed key assumptions underpinning our extradition treaty arrangements with Hong Kong. I have to say that I am particularly concerned by articles 55 to 59 of the law, which give mainland Chinese authorities the ability to assume jurisdiction over certain cases and to try those cases in mainland Chinese courts. The national security law does not provide legal or judicial safeguards in such cases, and I am also concerned about the potential reach of the extraterritorial provisions.
I have consulted the Home Secretary, the Justice Secretary and the Attorney-General, and the Government have decided to suspend the extradition treaty immediately and indefinitely. I should also tell the House that we will not consider reactivating those arrangements unless and until there are clear and robust safeguards that can prevent extradition from the UK being misused under the new national security legislation.
There remains considerable uncertainty about the way in which the new national security law will be enforced. I just say this: the United Kingdom is watching and the whole world is watching. In the past few weeks, I have been engaged with many of our international partners in a concerted dialogue about how we should best respond to the unfolding events we are seeing in Hong Kong. On
I also discussed the situation with our European partners, including Josep Borrell, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs. The UK Government also welcome the EU announcement on
A number of our international partners are also considering what offers they may be willing to make to the people of Hong Kong following the UK’s offer in relation to BNOs. I can reassure the House that we will continue to take a leading role in engaging and in co-ordinating our actions with our international partners, as befits our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong.
As I said at the outset, we want a positive relationship with China. There is a huge amount to be gained for both countries. There are many areas where we can work productively and constructively together to mutual benefit. For our part, the UK will work hard and in good faith towards that goal, but we will protect our vital interests. We will stand up for our values, and we will hold China to its international obligations. The specific measures I have announced today are a reasonable and proportionate response to China’s failure to live up to those international obligations with respect to Hong Kong, and I commend this statement to the House.”
My Lords, the UK must offer a firm and resolute response to China’s unwarranted and illegal actions in Hong Kong, and I welcome the two measures contained in the Statement as part of this. The extension of the arms embargo will prevent UK weapons and equipment being used, and I would like to ask whether the Minister will also review the training provided to the Hong Kong police by UK institutions. The immediate and indefinite suspension of the extradition treaty is also welcome, but this must form part of a global response.
On Monday, the Foreign Secretary acknowledged that it needs to be more than just the traditional Five Eyes and Europeans, because there is, as he put it, a whole range of non-aligned countries out there that are very much influenced by what China is doing and saying. So, I ask the Minister: has the meeting with the German Foreign Secretary taken place this week, and has there been a positive response? Also, have there been any multilateral or bilateral talks with the Commonwealth to build support for upholding the international rule of law in all areas, including the South China Sea?
“The rights and the freedoms of … the people of Hong Kong should not be sacrificed on the altar of bankers’ bonuses.”—[Official Report, Commons, 1/7/20; col. 336.]
Can the Minister explain what the Foreign Secretary meant? The persecution of Uighur Muslims, including their detention in re-education camps and the forced harvesting of their organs, represents one of the gravest oppressions of human rights today. At PMQs today, Boris Johnson said:
“That is why the Foreign Secretary, only this week, condemned the treatment of the Uyghurs. That is why this Government, for the first time, have brought in targeted sanctions against those who abuse human rights in the form of the Magnitsky Act.”
So, does the noble Lord agree with Mr Johnson? Does he accept the urgency of targeting those Chinese officials involved in human rights abuses, including in Hong Kong, or does he follow the Foreign Secretary’s more cautious approach? I was disappointed that yesterday the Minister said that he was not willing to speculate on designations—something Boris Johnson appears happy to do.
I have not asked the Minister to speculate. What I hope for from this Government is a clear commitment to accelerate the timetable for targeted sanctions on Chinese officials involved in the persecution of the Uighur people. If he will not make this commitment tonight, will he at least confirm that the US has provided the evidence upon which they have acted? I would appreciate it if he could, at the very least, confirm the Government’s red lines on what it would take for the application of Magnitsky sanctions in this case.
The Foreign Secretary said that he had given, with Mike Pompeo as well as the other Five Eyes partners,
“due consideration to co-operation on future evidence.”—[
Does that mean we have an agreement on the sharing of evidence, and can we move more speedily as a consequence?
In the coming months, the Government must remain alert, monitor China’s action and respond accordingly. While it may be Hong Kong or Xinjiang today, it could be Taiwan tomorrow. The Minister will be aware that Taiwan’s Foreign Minister warned only today that China is imposing itself on Taiwanese airspace and waters. Has the Foreign Office made an assessment of these claims, and were they discussed with Mike Pompeo?
My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing this Statement on China and Hong Kong to the House. It is surely right to seek a positive relationship with China, with its ancient culture, economic strength and developing excellence in science and technology—especially green technology—as the Statement makes clear.
Nevertheless, we cannot turn a blind eye to human rights abuses, and the Secretary of State is right to identify the appalling treatment of the Uighurs. Can the Minister say whether the Foreign Office has now taken a view on the China Tribunal’s conclusions, and is the FCO bringing China within the scope of the new Magnitsky sanctions?
In terms of Hong Kong, we have a special responsibility. Britain and China signed a treaty, which is lodged at the UN, protecting the rights of those in Hong Kong for at least 50 years. The national security law has blown that away. Like the noble Lord, Lord Collins, I therefore welcome the Government’s actions on citizenship for BNO passport holders, the suspension of the extradition treaty and the extension of the arms embargo. Nevertheless, I once more flag the position of young activists who do not have BNO passports and will be particularly at risk. Will the Government make sure that no one is excluded from this offer? What steps are they taking to ensure that those facing political persecution can freely leave?
The involvement of independent foreign judges in Hong Kong has long been seen as the canary in the coal mine: if they went, the writing would be on the wall for the independence of Hong Kong. The President of the UK Supreme Court has now questioned whether UK judges can continue to sit on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal. What is the Minister’s view?
As I asked yesterday, does the Minister believe that there can be free and fair elections to the Legislative Council in September? Will the Government seek to send an election observation mission to Hong Kong? What further actions might the Government take if these elections are not free and fair?
There is also wide concern about free speech. Will British journalists be advised to relocate, and how might access to a free internet be protected? Are the Government willing to work alongside others to create a UN special envoy or rapporteur for Hong Kong, who could have special responsibility for monitoring the human rights situation on the ground? Is there a way this could be done without China simply vetoing it?
As I have expressed before, I remain concerned that not all countries in the EU, a tiny number of Commonwealth countries and no countries in Asia, South America and Africa supported the UK in relation to the new law. This is a desperate situation, and China should recognise the loss to their country of an outflow of talented young people from Hong Kong and step back, even at this late stage, from implementing this new national security law. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, for their support of the Government’s position. I am sure they both recognise—indeed, they have acknowledged—the fact that, over several months now, the Government have stood up for what they said they would do.
I know, in my own work as Human Rights Minister, that we have not only strengthened but sought to build alliances in the context of the UN Human Rights Council and gained support—including ourselves, there were 27 countries that voted for the statement. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, has rightly reminded us again, there were a vast number of countries that were not supportive of the statement initiated by the United Kingdom, and that is a cause for concern.
Therefore, we continue to work through all international fora, as well as bilaterally, to ensure that not only the situation in Hong Kong but that of the Uighur Muslims—which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, mentioned specifically—is at the forefront of all our minds. It is particularly noticeable and disappointing that very few countries in the Islamic world have spoken out in defence of the Uighur Muslims. I am not for a moment suggesting that one religion should speak in its own defence, but whoever is persecuted, wherever they are persecuted and irrespective of your faith or belief, you should stand up for their rights, and it is disappointing that we have not seen a response from the wider community. However, we continue to work undeterred.
The noble Baroness mentioned the Commonwealth and will have noted that we have the support of notable partners, including Canada, Australia and New Zealand, in this respect. We will continue to work with them in further strengthening the response from across the Commonwealth. In the context of the European Union, there was a meeting of the Foreign Affairs Council, which agreed that national Governments would focus on this issue and announce appropriately.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the visit today of the German Foreign Minister, which is ongoing. I have been on a virtual visit to the UN today, so I have yet to see the updates from those discussions. However, knowing the German Foreign Minister well, I know how much he cares about human rights. Recently, I was with him when he chaired an event at the UN Security Council on the important issue of preventing sexual violence in conflict and standing up for the most vulnerable. We share a value system with many of our EU partners and, more globally, across the Commonwealth—values central to Commonwealth thinking. We will continue to raise these issues bilaterally and in international fora.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, mentioned the role of various private institutions in Hong Kong, which continue to operate. The Foreign Secretary and the Prime Minister have been clear that companies must decide in which countries they will operate, but that, while that is a business decision for them, everyone should recognise that the situation prevailing in Hong Kong is a direct contravention of the joint agreement and of “one country, two systems”. As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, reminded us, this agreement has been lodged with the United Nations. Therefore, we continue to implore China to uphold its obligations as a P5 member of the UN Security Council and as a wider player on important issues currently confronting the world—not only Covid-19 but also, as we work towards COP 26, China’s important role in ensuring that the world faces the challenges of climate change.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the sharing of evidence and work around the Magnitsky sanctions. Again, I would cause speculation if I were to say specifically what the next designations will be, but before the Recess we shall have a debate about the sanctions that have already come forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about red lines. On the issue of the Uighurs and human rights across the world, the intention of the global human rights sanctions regime is to hold those who abuse human rights and commit gross human rights violations to account. However, I cannot speculate on the specifics of China at this juncture.
The noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked a specific question on the sharing of evidence. We work very closely with partners across many areas, including the United States among others. We share a common value system with countries in the European Union, with the United States and with many countries in the Commonwealth and beyond. Many countries look towards us for the initiation of what we have done and invoked through the global human rights sanctions regime. I know that other countries—I know of many in Europe—and the European Union itself are considering a similar specific global human rights sanctions regime.
The noble Baroness also rightly raised the important issue of the judiciary in Hong Kong. As I am sure she recognises and as all noble Lords have followed, what has happened as a material change in the announcement of the national security law is the passing of the appointment of judges from the Chief Justice to the Chief Executive. This is in direct violation of Section 3(3) of the joint declaration. We also saw a statement from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reed, on
The noble Baroness also rightly asked about the pending elections. There is some suggestion and speculation that the Covid crisis might be a factor in consideration of whether these elections are held, but our position remains clear and consistent: we believe that the elections in Hong Kong should be open, fair and transparent. We will continue to raise these issues consistently with the Chinese authorities and the Hong Kong Administration.
We now come to the 20 minutes allocated for Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.
My Lords, will my noble friend agree that the justices of the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal—both the permanent and non-permanent justices from Hong Kong itself and the visiting British and Commonwealth justices—have been a bulwark against political interference, and strong guarantors of the rule of law and judicial independence in criminal and civil law cases? Would he not agree that the same could be said of legal practitioners in Hong Kong, who operate under severe pressure from the Beijing and Hong Kong Governments? Can I press him on what the Government’s policy is with regard to the immediate and future viability of the court and the continuing participation of UK and Commonwealth justices in its work? Should they stay as exemplars of judicial independence and help to maintain the rule of law, or leave to avoid their independence being compromised?
My Lords, I agree with both my noble and learned friend’s points. On his specific question on the judiciary, as he will acknowledge and as he knows from his own experience and insights, the UK judiciary is independent of the UK Government and makes its own assessment. We have already heard from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reed, about the continued service of UK judges specifically, but he has made the point—which is also the Government’s position—about the importance of judicial independence and the rule of law. The situation is currently under constant review.
My Lords, multiple examples of highly regrettable actions by China go far beyond British values and the values of our allies. How has this deterioration been allowed to happen to the degree that it has? Is it a breakdown in diplomacy— I suspect that megaphone diplomacy is probably ineffective—or are some political asks now too difficult to achieve? Does the Minister agree that there needs to be an urgent, all-encompassing consideration of the relationship with China, rather than a piecemeal approach, to cover all aspects, including climate change, human rights, security, defence, and trade and supply chains, from which a policy of coherent consistency can be derived?
My Lords, some of the questions the noble Viscount poses are for the Chinese Administration to answer. We deeply regret the actions they have taken recently in Hong Kong. We have reacted as we said we would, with the various statements we have made on BNO status. On reassessing our relationship, as my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in the Statement he made on
My Lords, the Foreign Secretary is correct about the importance and place of China in the world but China’s human rights record, especially as it concerns Uighurs, has been well known for some time. In the light of the recent US Uighurs human rights act, will Her Majesty’s Government consider similar measures and produce a list of Chinese companies involved in the construction and operation of the camps? Given the rising and publicly expressed concern in this country, including by the Board of Deputies, will the Minister now accept that it is high time we took firmer steps to counter Beijing’s harrowing human rights abuses against the Uighurs, and that such abuses should influence negotiations on any future trade deal with China?
My Lords, I believe the Government have made their position on the deplorable situation faced by the Uighurs in Xinjiang very clear over a number of months—indeed, over years. This problem has been brought to our attention. We have strengthened the work on building alliances to call out the human rights abuses endured by the Uighurs in particular, and we will continue to work to ensure that human rights remain central to our discussions with China on all aspects of our relationship with it.
My Lords, on Monday the Foreign Secretary said he was “stubbornly optimistic” about global Britain, including in our relations with China. The Minister will know that China is one of the countries which the Government have identified as a potential partner for a new trade agreement—one of the many post-Brexit deals the Government are hoping to negotiate. In light of all the disputes and serious human rights issues which have arisen over the past six months, do the Government still aim to conclude a trade deal with China and, if so, in what sort of time- frame, or have they changed their mind and abandoned the idea of an agreement?
My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point about the issue of human rights within the context of trade agreements and negotiations. As I said, we recognise that China has an important role to play where it has supported both UK growth and UK jobs, but we will not accept investment that compromises our national security. The issue of human rights is also very much part of our thinking.
My Lords, in responding to the right reverend Prelate, the Minister said that the Government are calling out China over human rights abuses. That is not sufficient. Given that China, despite being led by a so-called Communist Party, relies on the global system of international trade, what scope is there for naming companies that rely on Uighur labour and trying to have a regime whereby people simply do not buy products produced by forced labour?
My Lords, the United Kingdom has been at the forefront of the issue of modern slavery, led by my right honourable friend the former Prime Minister, ensuring that rights of workers, wherever they may be in the world, are fully protected. I disagree with the noble Baroness: I think we have been very clear and frank, and we have led on the issue of the persecution of Uighurs in Xinjiang and we have done so consistently over a long period.
China has just announced its wish to become a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council—yes, my Lords, the Human Rights Council. The Government have rightly condemned China for the appalling and inhumane treatment of the Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. They have also rightly condemned China for its crushing of Hong Kong. Currently, China is agreeing a $400 billion economic security deal with the terror-supporting Iranian regime. So, not only is it destroying human rights at home in China; it is clearly a threat to human rights worldwide. History teaches us that condemning is not enough. Will my noble friend the Minister therefore agree with me that the Government should now lead the world and create a coalition of allies to vote against allowing China to take a seat on the UN’s most senior human rights body? Otherwise, our words of condemnation will, sadly, be just words.
My Lords, I cannot speak for other countries; they will make their decisions on who qualifies and who does not qualify for the Human Rights Council. However, like other member states, I hope, in making a decision we will certainly consider very carefully the human rights records of countries which aspire to speak about human rights at the HRC.
My Lords, today the Bar Human Rights Committee of England and Wales published a powerful report on the persecution of the Uighur Muslims. It is based on sound evidence and exemplary legal scholarship and it makes a number of recommendations, one of which is to use the recent Magnitsky regime on targeted sanctions. Secretary of State Pompeo indicated yesterday while here in England that he had used Magnitsky sanctions on a number of Chinese functionaries. Are we in conversation with the United States about who those people might be, and might we follow suit? Secondly, will we consider requesting that China, which denies that persecution takes place and denies the nature of the camps, allows in an investigatory delegation to assess the situation on our Government’s behalf?
My Lords, on the noble Baroness’s first point, as I have already said, I will not speak about what future designations may be. However, I agree with the noble Baroness; I think we have all been appalled by some of the scenes we have seen recently across the media on the treatment of the Uighurs. They were quite chilling in every respect. On the issue of access to Xinjiang, work was done previously looking at the human rights commissioner visiting China, and I hope that that will come to fruition at some future point.
My Lords, I declare an historic interest, having fought a case against extradition from the UK to Hong Kong for four and a half years through 12 separate applications for habeas corpus. A senior Hong Kong solicitor told me today that almost all the extradition proceedings now current are concerned with either money laundering or drugs. Now that we have terminated extradition in both directions, how do we ensure that Britain does not become a safe haven for Hong Kong criminals, nor Hong Kong a safe haven for those committing crimes in the UK? Would it not be sensible to have a generous approach to claims for political asylum by young protestors from Hong Kong who do not qualify to come here as a BNO?
My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second point, the United Kingdom has been, is and will remain a place where people from all over the world seek asylum for a number of reasons. Each case is judged on its merits, and we have provided protection to many people across the world who have suffered persecution.
My Lords, most of the 53 countries that supported Chinese security laws in the UN Human Rights Council were almost certainly either scared of Chinese power and its aggressive nature or had been bought; that particularly applies to countries in Africa and elsewhere with huge loans. We need to ensure that we in this country are not bought. I commend Her Majesty’s Government for being resolute and clear. However, do they have a policy on influencers in Britain, be they individuals or organisations such as Cambridge University—Jesus College is much in the news at the moment, being written about by Charles Moore—who are in the pay of either Chinese companies or receiving large grants from the Chinese Government?
My Lords, I would be pleased if my noble friend could write specifically on the concerns he has raised. Of course it is concerning that some do not recognise the situation that has prevailed in Hong Kong or the suffering of the Uighurs, as well as that of other minorities in Xinjiang. It is important that we continue to focus on those. Those who defend or deny those actions need to take a long, hard look at themselves.
My Lords, Dr Sarah Gilbert from the Oxford group dealing with coronavirus talks of collaboration worldwide on virus research, which we all welcome. To what extent are we collaborating with the Chinese, who are devoting huge resources to finding a vaccine? Can we be assured that if they or we get a breakthrough, we will not allow an hysterical Trump to issue trade threats to prevent us sharing in the benefits? A lot of lives are at stake.
The noble Lord raises an important point about collaboration and working with China on the issues that matter. Clearly, China has a role to play on the pandemic, as it does on climate change. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has said, this is a global pandemic that needs us all to work together for the common good.
My Lords, in considering Magnitsky sanctions against individuals of the Chinese Communist Party, will Her Majesty’s Government take into account the judgment of the China tribunal in March this year, chaired by Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, that the abhorrent forced harvesting of organs from Falun Gong prisoners has been perpetrated for years throughout China on a significant scale and that medical testing on detained Uighur prisoners could allow them to become an organ bank?
My Lords, the Government have received Sir Geoffrey Nice’s report and I met him a little while ago specifically to discuss it. We will continue to review the content of such reports. What I have seen and what we have assessed reveal a very concerning and deep-rooted challenge regarding organ harvesting. We have raised this issue with the World Health Organization to ensure that it is raised with the Chinese. However, it remains as yet unconvinced that the evidence supports such action.
My Lords, I endorse everything that my noble friend Lord Collins, and Lisa Nandy, have said. No global issue, such as climate change, dealing with this pandemic or getting global trade functioning properly, is going to be resolved unless China is involved, as the emerging superpower of this century. I understand the Government’s tactics, but what is their long-term strategy?
My Lords, I think the noble Lord has partly answered the question himself. It is important that we call out China where we see abuses of human rights, that the international system is not being observed or that treaties are not being adhered to or respected, while, equally, recognising that China has an important role to play in areas such as tackling the Covid crisis and climate change.
“fail to notice the similarities between what is alleged to be happening in the People’s Republic of China today and what happened in Nazi Germany 75 years ago”.
Will the Minister confirm that we will work with all countries governed by democratic principles and act together in trade negotiations to say that there must be an end to the persecution of the Uighurs and people of any religion, and that breaching legal agreements over Hong Kong and seeking to bully the people of Taiwan is unacceptable?
My Lords, I have already said that those images we saw were quite startling. They remain etched on everyone’s memories, as we have been reminded by the board of deputies in its letter. It is therefore important that China steps up, respects human rights and affords protections to the Uighurs and all minorities in China.
My Lords, these are extraordinarily serious issues—there are few more so—but does my noble friend the Minister agree that sanctions and increasing isolation are unlikely to produce the result they claim, not least for the people in desperate need they purport to protect? This is extraordinarily hard. Does he not agree that we have to try harder?
My Lords, that is why the global human rights regime is specifically aimed at states, not individuals. Our quarrel is not with the people of China.
My Lords, none of China’s actions should have come as a surprise to anybody. There has been a warning for quite a long time on its attitude to human rights and to Hong Kong. When did the Government let it know there would be consequences to a continuation of these actions? Do we have certain red lines and standards saying that if it goes further there will be further action?
I am sure the noble Lord will recollect that we warned we would take action, particularly on BNOs, if the national security law was enacted. We informed the Chinese of that. They continued with their actions and we responded with the announcements we have made. We will continue to monitor the situation in Hong Kong, mainland China and other parts. Taiwan was raised, and while we retain our position on the importance of negotiations between the two sides, the issue of human rights has not gone away. It remains live and we will continue to monitor it. Where we need to act, we have acted.