It is a pleasure to hold this debate on Hong Kong under your chairmanship, Mr Weir, in the year of the 30th anniversary of that unique international treaty, the “Joint Declaration of the Government of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and the Government of the People’s Republic of China on the Question of Hong Kong with Annexes”, as well as to cover recent events. I declare an interest as chair of the all-party group on China and as a director of the Great Britain-China Centre, which is a non-departmental public body. Both of them receive sponsorship. I also refer the Chamber to the all-party group’s entry in the all-party group register.
The joint declaration was the result of hard work and creative diplomacy by some still in this Parliament, such as their lordships, Lord Howe and Lord Luce. Above all, in its encompassing philosophy of “one country, two systems”, the joint declaration was a bold political innovation by Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping. Recognising what was most special about Hong Kong in its future change of sovereignty—that its core freedoms must be preserved and that the
“socialist system and policies shall not be practised”—
Britain and China together found a formula, and later the trust, that maintained confidence within Hong Kong and by the world in Hong Kong. Thirty years on, the architects can congratulate themselves. Broadly, Hong Kong has thrived and remains special and successful. Political boldness paid off.
The freedoms that Britain and China pledged to maintain—freedom under the law, an independent judiciary, a free press, free speech and the freedom to demonstrate—are delicate, and they all contribute to the existence of a free market, capitalist economy. There is no major international financial centre in the world that does not have a free press, however inconvenient that may occasionally be to Governments and individuals. The British Government’s commitment on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom, when they signed the joint declaration and made it valid for 50 years after 1997—that is, to 2047—is vital to Hong Kong’s success. If we allow any of those freedoms to be curtailed and if we say nothing about any dilution of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, whether deliberate or inadvertent, we risk colluding in Hong Kong’s gradual—not immediate —decline, helping others in Asia who would swiftly take any opportunity at Hong Kong’s expense, and we would not be fulfilling the commitments that John Major, Robin Cook and, most recently, our Prime Minister have re-emphasised in the clearest terms.
That implies strong engagement with Hong Kong and China and frequent dialogue and discussions where, as joint signatories, we can and should exchange views freely, with the shared responsibility for doing what is in all our best interests: preserving the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. When I was a very young Member of Parliament, I was invited to go to Hong Kong under the chairmanship of Ian Mikardo, along with Jo Richardson and others, to evaluate the local response in Hong Kong to the agreement. I was very much involved in taking evidence and meeting people. We were part of ensuring that they understood the agreement, and I certainly have a real vested interest in what the hon. Gentleman is saying about guaranteeing those freedoms.
The hon. Gentleman brings a degree of long experience on these issues to the debate today and to our Chamber in general, matching some of the experience visible in their lordships’ House when they debated recent events in Hong Kong. It is important that we understand the continuity of that commitment, which he saw for himself. I was living in Hong Kong in 1984 and in 1997, and I was present at the handover. These things are real to him and me, but for others, who are younger, it is important that that commitment is not forgotten or allowed to wither.
Let me turn to recent events, Britain and China’s reactions and the role of this Parliament in holding our Executive to account and raising questions of interest on behalf of our constituents. In the consultation in Hong Kong on the arrangements for the election of the next Chief Executive in 2017, which took place earlier this year, it was already clear that many had concerns about the detail of what the universal suffrage promised in China’s Basic Law would mean in practice. Those concerns increased sharply after the Chinese National People’s Congress standing committee announced its decisions on elections on
It is worth noting that the British Government’s first reaction on
“recognise that the detailed terms…will disappoint those who are arguing for a more open nomination process.”
There are two relevant aspects to that. First, that was not the sort of comment that would be made if it was anticipated that 800,000 people would demonstrate and occupy the centre of the world’s third financial centre for weeks. Those who saw the dark hand of foreign forces behind the demonstrations were well wide of the mark, as the statement on
There is a question about why that is so, but it is my belief that most of those in Hong Kong who feel most strongly about the issues around the election of the next Chief Executive represent a new generation of Hong Kongers. They were mostly born after the joint declaration. They are not, as has sometimes been claimed, ancient colonial sentimentalists or those left by dark foreign forces to create disturbance after the colonialists had gone, but a new generation with a different take on life from their predecessors. They are more sure of their Hong Kong identity, less sure of their future prospects and less trustful of Government or leaders in whose appointment they still feel they do not have enough say.
I congratulate my hon. Friend and neighbour on securing this debate. Would he care to reflect that some of the protesters’ motivation might be that they feel left behind by the current state of economic progress in Hong Kong?
They are not participating in the economic miracle that has taken place there in the past two or three decades, which is strange when the latest economic plan in China envisages taking 10 million poor people on the mainland into the work force each year to increase prosperity.
My hon. Friend and neighbour takes a close interest in these matters, not least as chairman of the Conservative Friends of the Chinese. He makes a good point. There is a dichotomy. In simple terms, it is that while the generation of Hong Kongers immediately after the second world war were focused on rebuilding the territory and restoring their lives after a disastrous period in Hong Kong’s history and their children in the ’80s and ’90s were focused on economic progress, self-advancement and taking Hong Kong to an international stage, today’s generation perhaps feel that their prospects for mobility, owning property and enjoying a satisfaction with life comparable with their parents are less certain.
They have more questions, as I mentioned, and are perhaps more sensitive to issues that did not really exist 30 years ago, such as increasing environmental concerns and air pollution, which is a major issue throughout China, including Hong Kong, as my hon. Friend Geoffrey Clifton-Brown knows. There is more uncertainty, but I sense a strong feeling of identity among the new generation. They are Hong Kongers and want to celebrate that by having more of a civic say in decisions made on their behalf.
Before the hon. Gentleman moves on to uncertainty, those of us who care about China believe it to be a vital and energising influence in the world. Does he agree that there are serious signs of a positive change in the leadership in China, which I have certainly noticed in the delegations from mainland China who visit this country and come to Yorkshire and other places? This positive wind of change should give some reassurance to us and the inhabitants of Hong Kong.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that the winds of change have been blowing vigorously in China since the opening up under Deng Xiaoping in the late ‘70s, but they blow at uneven speeds, in different ways and in different sectors. The main wind of change was a huge desire for economic progress, which has led to a better standard of living for the hundreds of millions of people who have been lifted out of poverty. At the same time—the hon. Gentleman will have read the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s latest human rights reports—it is not yet clear whether the new regime in China will prove so open to changes that allow for greater dialogue and debate of political questions. Significant differences of opinion on human rights also still exist. We in this country tend to see a new and young generation of mainland Chinese, often coming here to study, who are extremely able and well-educated, but the winds of change are uneven in China, which is a concern to some in Hong Kong.
Returning to this summer’s events, just before September’s developments erupted in Hong Kong, the Select Committee on Foreign Affairs decided to do a wide and all-encompassing report on Hong Kong and our commitments, which we all look forward to reading in due course. It was unfortunate that some in China chose to represent that as interference in internal affairs. The Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend Sir Richard Ottaway, said that
“investigating the FCO’s ongoing assessment of the implementation of the…Joint Declaration…is part of our role in oversight of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and it is an entirely legitimate interest of the Committee.”
That is absolutely right. It is an entirely legitimate interest of this Parliament that we should debate our commitment to the joint declaration to ensure that we fulfil the international treaty that we signed up to with China and that we work together for it is in all our interests to do so.
During September’s demonstrations, the Government’s position came under question and it took some six weeks before a ministerial written statement was published on
Moving on to the issues that are hotly under debate in Hong Kong, I want first to focus on stability, which is different from continuity. Any territory’s stability is much stronger when its leader has the credibility of being chosen by a large number of voters, which gives the leader the ability to exercise a real mandate and carry through what will not always be popular decisions in the difficult circumstances that spring up. Business, too, has a vital need for political stability, but that also sometimes comes, like business success, from calculated risks according to the needs of new generations and new consumers. Yesterday’s investment strategies will not always work tomorrow, and it is the same in politics.
The Chief Executive of Hong Kong says that the 2017 election will
“empower the chief executive with a mandate not enjoyed by any leader in Hong Kong’s history”, and it will if the election is real and not predetermined to produce a particular result. The value of any election is in the number of people who decide to vote. In that election, the people of Hong Kong will demonstrate their enthusiasm both for the election and for a new leader by turning out in high numbers. To implement universal suffrage in a way that does not offer real choice to the people of Hong Kong would risk a low turnout and would be a hollow achievement that gave the future Chief Executive a fragile mandate.
What is at stake in terms of this House’s interest in the 2017 Hong Kong election is not ultimately in the precise detail of what sectors are represented in the nomination committee, how they are defined and how many members the committee has, but in the result that is offered to the people of Hong Kong at the end of the deliberations, which should give them a real choice in who becomes Hong Kong’s future leader. That is the best guarantee of stability in this territory, to which Britain and China are jointly pledged to support. Real choice, with a truly independent system of law and a high degree of autonomy, is what we are committed to—under Chinese sovereignty. It is a unique and special contribution to the evolution of China under that inspired phrase of Deng Xiaoping: “one country, two systems.” It was that that both our countries signed up to, and not to swap ideas or discuss regularly what progress is being made would be a breach of both our obligations and responsibilities. Let us think boldly and outside the box, in the same way that our predecessors did in the run-up to the joint declaration of 1984.
For example, Hong Kong’s constitutional arrangements mean that the system at the moment involves a Government—in effect, a Cabinet—but without a political party in the Legislative Council to back them up and to pursue their legislative agenda. That cannot be satisfactory. Is it not time for the next newly and successfully elected Chief Executive to create a political party that offers candidates in the next Legislative Council elections, so that his or her party may aspire to a majority and legislate for what it has campaigned on? That would surely provide longer-term stability to the governance of Hong Kong and give its people a larger say in what decisions are being made and by whom on their behalf.
As for Government’s responsibilities and commitments to fulfilling their obligations, I believe it is time for them to do more to debate what is happening in Hong Kong. I ask the Minister whether it is time for an oral statement to accompany the next biannual report on Hong Kong that the Foreign Office produces, rather than simply a written statement that is filed away. Is it not time for the Foreign Office to understand better the needs of the younger generation in Hong Kong, so that, as Ambassador Liu put it, we are working together to maintain the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong through understanding the younger generation’s needs? We might well disagree on some elements of what that involves and what “prosperity” and “stability” mean, but let us be honest: neither the Hong Kong, Chinese nor British Government anticipated exactly what has happened in Hong Kong over the last few months. Therefore, we need an imaginative response that captures the aspirations of most of the territory and enables its remarkable success to continue.
There are other aspects that should be touched on. Perhaps the Minister can let us know what the situation with the BBC is. I understand that the BBC is blocked in China, but I am not yet clear whether it is blocked in Hong Kong as well. That is part of freedom of expression and freedom of the press, which are so vital to Hong Kong’s success. I would like confirmation today that whenever the BBC is blocked, we raise the issue as a matter of principle.
Will the Minister also confirm when he is next travelling to Hong Kong and whether he will have the chance to engage with different groups there in order to understand better some of the questions about Hong Kong’s future stability? Will he also confirm that he has reminded our partner in the joint declaration of our absolute right in this Parliament to hold our Government to account on their commitments under the joint declaration and to hold debates of this nature? That is part of our constitutional arrangements, and it is important that the Chinese Government understand that.
In particular, will the Minister confirm today that stability for nations is not, in our eyes, about maintaining the status quo regardless, but about reaching out for greater involvement with the people—in this case, of Hong Kong—allowing them a greater say in choosing their leaders and, above all, trusting in the people? For the people of Hong Kong and we have no interest, no advantage or no conceivable selfish purpose in any form of car crash with Hong Kong’s sovereign master, China. Rather, it is in all our interests, but particularly those of Britain and China in fulfilling the joint declaration, that Hong Kong continues to thrive and prosper, in a different world from that of 1984 or even 1997.
Thank you, Mr Weir, for allowing me to catch your eye in this debate. I should declare an interest: I am chairman of the Conservative Friends of the Chinese and a regular visitor to Hong Kong and mainland China, and I have always taken a close interest in Chinese and Hong Kong matters.
I congratulate my good neighbour, my hon. Friend Richard Graham, on securing the debate. He was absolutely right in his opening remarks to say that there might have been some misunderstanding among some of the Chinese authorities and that some might think that we should not be debating the subject. Under the terms of the joint declaration, however, we should be debating it. As I will come on to say, there are huge British roots in Hong Kong and a huge love of Hong Kong in this country. We want Hong Kong to prosper. What I have to say might be controversial to a small degree, but I hope that it will be seen positively as only wishing the best for Hong Kong and its people.
The debate is important, as my hon. Friend said, largely because of how vital an asset Hong Kong is to both the United Kingdom and mainland China. The United Kingdom and Hong Kong share economic, social and historic links. Those strong links are natural considering that only 17 years ago sovereignty over all parts of Hong Kong was transferred to China as a result of the joint declaration. That joint declaration between Deng Xiaoping and Margaret Thatcher was visionary and envisaged “one country, two systems”. The statement still endures today.
Hong Kong has continued to grow as an international powerhouse with strong links not only to the UK, but around the world. It serves as China’s financial centre and as a major part of the Chinese economy. The links between the economies of Hong Kong and the UK are huge: 40% of British investment in Asia goes directly into Hong Kong, which amounted to almost £36 billion at the end of 2012, including goods and services. We export £7 billion-worth of trade to Hong Kong.
British companies are always extremely welcome in Hong Kong and it is a fantastic place to do business, thanks to a system with low levels of bureaucracy, simple taxation and contracts based on English law. About 130 British companies have regional bases in Hong Kong, and many countries around the world see it in a similar light. Indeed, Hong Kong comes second in the world’s rankings for ease of business, while the UK’s place is 10th. The success of Hong Kong must be protected from any instability that could threaten further progress.
Hong Kong has prospered while maintaining its rights and protections under the joint declaration, of which we and mainland China are joint signatories, such as the rule of law, the high level of autonomy, the free press, freedom of speech and, importantly in the current situation, the right to demonstrate. That has all been achieved under the “one country, two systems” principle, which has clearly worked well, although perhaps not as imagined at the time of the handover in 1997. We must ensure that the principle continues.
Economic success, however, has created a divide between the business elite and the ordinary people of Hong Kong. That is what the protests are all about. Student protesters feel that the business elite have too much control. The rest are not participating fully in the rise of Hong Kong’s economic prosperity.
The suggested Selection Committee to choose suitable candidates for election as Chief Executive seems to be business-dominated: pro-Beijing and not representative of poorer citizens outside the business elite. As I said in my intervention, it is surprising that the PRC does not want poorer people to participate given the latest economic plan, the figures of which are worth repeating because they are so staggering. The latest economic plan produced by the new leader, Xi Jinping, envisages that GDP in China will grow from $6,600 a head to more than $9,000 a head, across its 1.25 billion people. That would be a staggering achievement within the plan period: the country will have to achieve a growth rate of 6.7% every year of the plan. Staggeringly, as I said to my hon. Friend, China will need to bring 10 million people—poor people—into the work force each year to achieve that.
It seems odd that the Government of the PRC want more and more poor people on the mainland to participate in the economic growth there, but are not yet permitting that to happen in Hong Kong. Our Government need to consider that carefully.
Although on the face of it the protests are about the progression of electoral reform, it is evident that they go deeper: they are about the desire of people outside businesses to be considered more. For example, there are only two dairy producers and two supermarkets in Hong Kong, which means high food prices for Hong Kong residents. As we know, high food prices affect poorer people the most—young poor people in particular.
The important message of this debate is that we want to see gradual change in the situation. As I have said to the Chinese press, ultimately this is an issue for the People’s Republic of China, the Government of Hong Kong and the people of Hong Kong to resolve. Electoral reform has progressed within the framework of the Basic Law, and universal suffrage is the ultimate aim. That process has been developing since the 1997 handover. Every election since then—I must stress this point—has been more open and democratic than the previous one. The Election Committee for the Chief Executive began with 400 representatives, was expanded to 800 and now has 1,200 from 38 subsectors. We want that progress to continue.
On that specific point, does my hon. Friend agree that we want to see things change not because we have an obsession with a particular democratic model but because a situation in which the current Chief Executive is known as 689, referring to the number of people who voted for him in the previous election, is unsatisfactory when there is a population of around 7 million? The better the arrangements and the more people who can have a say in the election, the stronger the mandate and, therefore, the greater the stability that there will be for the leadership of the territory of Hong Kong.
My hon. Friend raised one of those issues in his speech. I agree that if the Chief Executive is elected on as open a mandate as possible, with suffrage that is as universal as possible, there will be a better perception of the process among the people of Hong Kong. I will come to what I think will happen if that does not occur. I agree that we need to move towards a situation in which the candidate elected as Chief Executive is perceived to be representative of all people and all sections in Hong Kong society, including the young and poorer people.
So far, the authorities have given little indication that they are willing to provide consensus in their current offer. The UK Government need to urge them to consider genuinely and listen to the protesters’ concerns. An open consultation is needed, as the problem will not go away. The Chinese Government must allow change and gradual reform to continue. If they do not provide for that, feelings of resentment will fester and when the issue comes up again in 2022—as it surely will—the feelings and protests could be much more serious, deep-seated and profound than they are at present. It is surely in everybody’s interests that we see gradual reform.
Electoral reform was always going to be gradual under the Basic Law. Everyone agrees that that is the best approach, including many pro-democracy supporters in Hong Kong. It is also likely to be supported by the Chinese Government, who have their own concerns given the large number of Chinese visitors to Hong Kong. Step-by-step progress would avoid instability for wider China.
However, we need reassurances from the Chinese Government about the principles in the White Paper they recently produced for Hong Kong, which included an obligation for judges to swear an oath of allegiance to the state on election; those proposals need to be examined carefully. Judicial independence was one principle enshrined in the joint agreement and is of utmost importance to Hong Kong in maintaining its current success in the world. We must be clear that nothing should prevent the continuation of that independence, particularly in any case where an individual is challenging the state’s actions in the courts. Such cases must be allowed to continue, and judges must be able to judge them impartially.
It is encouraging that we have not seen large-scale attempts by either the Chinese or Hong Kong Governments to silence the protesters, although, as my hon. Friend said, the BBC website has been blocked in mainland China. That is regrettable. As he and I have both stated, one article in the joint declaration is a commitment to a free press. It is in everybody’s interests that nothing is hushed up by either side, so that we can have a full and fair picture. In this day and age, people will find ways around the jamming of electronic media, so we should encourage full openness. I am greatly encouraged that the current Chief Executive has extended offers to talk to the protesters, although those talks need real substance and should not be merely a smokescreen.
In conclusion, I reaffirm that Hong Kong is the economic jewel in China’s crown.
Before my hon. Friend concludes, will he be absolutely clear that he and the Conservative Friends of the Chinese support the aspiration of the protesters that candidates for Chief Executive should not be vetted by a nominating committee that could exclude candidates it disapproves of?
That would be the ultimate aim, but I have been quite cautious in my speech. We want gradual change. I am not sure whether we will get to the point my hon. Friend sets out in time for the elections in 2017, but I would hope that we would do so by the elections in 2022.
My hon. Friend Martin Horwood, who is also a constituency neighbour, raises an interesting question. After the earlier consultations in Hong Kong, there was a recommendation by 18 academics that the authorities should look into a method for public recommendation of candidates. I believe that nothing in that idea runs counter to what has been announced by the National People’s Congress standing committee, so it could be an opportunity for the Hong Kong Government to tackle part of that issue. Will my hon. Friend comment on that?
My hon. Friend raises a very interesting point. I urge our Government to examine that plan and possibly hold discussions with the Chinese Government to see whether there might not be a way through on that issue, along the lines suggested by those academics.
As I said, Hong Kong is the economic jewel in China’s crown.It is surely in China’s interests to ensure that Hong Kong continues to prosper. Large business and capital are very portable in the 21st century. If financial and commercial communities conclude that the governance of Hong Kong is not going in the right direction, Hong Kong’s importance will surely diminish and competitors such as Singapore will overtake it.
It is in everybody’s interests to maintain Hong Kong as a strong financial and commercial hub. But I will say this: if the mainland Government of the PRC do not listen to the protesters’ concerns and work to bring about gradual, step-by-step change and peaceful electoral reform under the Basic Law, along with a situation in which all sections of society share in the prosperity currently enjoyed by the elites, Hong Kong will gradually diminish in importance. We need to ensure that all its millions of people share in its continuing and, I hope, increasing economic prosperity.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Graham, my constituency neighbour, on securing this debate and on his measured, balanced and well-informed speech. I also congratulate my hon. Friend Geoffrey Clifton-Brown—another neighbour—on his similarly well-informed speech. I also congratulate the Minister on meeting Martin Lee and Anson Chan over the summer. It was important that a British Minister did that. The Deputy Prime Minister met them, as well, something that was appreciated and recognised.
Some of the statements Martin Lee made in The New York Times earlier this month have been pretty shocking. For instance, he wrote:
“At 76 years old, I never expected to be tear-gassed in Hong Kong, my once peaceful home. Like many of the other tens of thousands of calm and nonviolent protesters in the Hong Kong streets last Sunday, I was shocked when the pro-democracy crowd was met by throngs of police officers in full riot gear, carrying weapons and wantonly firing canisters of tear gas. After urging the crowd to remain calm under provocation, I got hit by a cloud of the burning fumes.”
When such accounts reach the world’s media, it is important that we say unambiguously that we support the peaceful process being pursued by the Hong Kong people, as well as their aspirations for freedom and democracy and, quite specifically, their right to elect a leader without a vetting process that would fundamentally undermine the democratic process.
The news today is actually more promising. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester remarked, there is some suggestion that Mr Leung has started to make statements implying the possibility of negotiations and that, while the Hong Kong Government will try to save face by not unbundling the Beijing Government’s whole proposal, there may be some room for discussion about the democratic process behind the nominating committee. That is a positive first step, and we should recognise that.
However, Martin Lee was quite clear in his article in TheNew York Times that, if the negotiations are to succeed, we in this country and across the western world have a role to play. He said:
“In order for us”— the Hong Kongers—
“to attain the rights that Beijing has promised, the rest of the world has to stand with Hong Kong. That includes the many multinational companies whose prosperity depends upon our free markets and open-and-honest society, but more important, it includes the world’s free democracies. Hong Kongers deserve more vigorous backing from Washington and London, which pledged to stand by us before the handover in 1997, when Beijing made the promises it is now so blatantly breaking.”
The crisis obviously has implications for Hong Kong, China and UK-China relations, but it also has implications for the international rule of law and the role of international treaties, which is what the joint declaration was—it was registered at the United Nations as such. To take a much more distressing example, the Budapest memorandum, under which Britain and the United States were joint guarantors of the independence of Ukraine, has turned out in practice to be hardly worth the paper it was written on. It is important that China treats the joint declaration much more seriously and that we reinforce respect for it as an international treaty.
On that point, I am sure my hon. Friend, like the rest of us, is absolutely clear that there is nothing specifically in the joint declaration about the arrangements for these, or indeed any other, elections; it simply states that there shall be elections. The methodology is in the Basic Law, and it is entirely an issue for the
Chinese and Hong Kong Governments. However, the Basic Law has been amended; like any law, it is not cast in stone for ever. Does my hon. Friend therefore agree that the real issue is the level of dialogue and trust between the Hong Kong Government and their people, and between the Hong Kong Government and the Chinese Government in turn, as they try to find the necessary compromises?
Yes, I would agree, and my hon. Friend put the point very well. However, this is also about understanding what universal suffrage really means and ensuring that the democratic process of choosing a leader for Hong Kong is free in a way that is understood by the Hong Kong people and by people in democracies around the world—and that does not include prior vetting by a one-party Government in another part of China.
We must be realistic and honest about the limits of our ability as a former colonial power—we did not actually deliver democracy when we were running Hong Kong—to influence this process. We must be persuasive, but we cannot be confrontational with the Government in Beijing. We certainly must be true to our values, but we must recognise that there are limits. We must try to persuade China that it is in its interests to have a stable and free Hong Kong; that is the basis on which Hong Kong’s prosperity has been built.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester rightly said, stability is not just about maintaining the status quo. It is in China’s interests that the process that emerges from whatever negotiations take place delivers a Chief Executive who is in tune with the Hong Kong people, not just through the formal process of democracy, but, for instance, in the sense of recognising issues of economic equality in the territory, as the hon. Member for The Cotswolds mentioned. The Chief Executive should not, for instance, make remarks such as those Mr Leung made about the Occupy Central movement when he dismissed it as being manipulated by external forces. That is dismissive of the aspirations of the community-based movement that has emerged in Hong Kong and would not be acceptable in most democratic leaders.
It is important that we try to persuade the Beijing Government not just to save face, but to move in a direction that recognises the aspirations of the Hong Kong people and to do better than we did as the colonial power—to outdo us—in its administration of Hong Kong. Hong Kong’s future stability certainly depends on that.
It is not a question of outdoing the United Kingdom as the colonial power. The point my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester made is important: the whole way of governing countries has changed in the period since the handover. People’s expectations are much greater than they were then, particularly where they can see that part of society has benefited from economic development. For example, house prices are horrendously high in Hong Kong. People complain about them here in London, but they are much higher there, which means it is difficult even for children of fairly wealthy parents to get on the property ladder. Young people and poorer people in Hong Kong see that they cannot aspire to such things, and that is why there needs to be change.
I would just say that our moral and political position in criticising Beijing would be much stronger if we had done more to deliver democracy for the people of Hong Kong over the many years we controlled the territory. However, the hon. Gentleman is right to emphasise the importance of change, and it is right to understand that that change cannot be hermetically sealed in Hong Kong. It is in the interests of China as a whole to understand how it can accommodate people’s economic and political aspirations, because, in this day and age, it is simply not possible for ideas of freedom and protest to be contained in Hong Kong—the traffic of people and electronic information is just too free.
China has seen a remarkable transformation over recent years; it has seen a flowering of not only economic development, but intellectual, artistic and academic potential. In that situation, it will at some stage have to confront its people’s aspirations for more freedoms in the political sphere as well, and it is important that it learns the lessons of Hong Kong and tries to understand how they can be accommodated.
The issue also has lessons for UK foreign policy towards China, which, I hope the Minister will not mind my saying, has been a bit unsophisticated at times in recent years. It has been so dominated by the need to trade and the desire to have a beneficial economic relationship that we have underestimated some of the multiplying concerns about the impact of China as an emerging superpower. Those obviously now include the situation in Hong Kong, but they also include the rapid militarisation—what is rather euphemistically called force projection—taking place in the South China sea, for instance.
Other concerns include the rather confrontational language being used with Vietnam and Taiwan, which is now being told to reflect again on the idea of “one country, two systems” on a rather shorter timetable than previous Chinese leaders talked about. In recent years, the dialogue with Taiwan has been more about progressive development, but the people of Taiwan could interpret China’s language now as quite negative and threatening—as Beijing setting a time limit on their separation from the mainland.
There is also the issue of China’s role on the UN Security Council and its inability to support what most of us in this Chamber would have seen as very necessary action in the middle east and elsewhere. In addition, there is China’s role in Africa and its exploitation of natural resources not only in China itself, but in Africa and other parts of the world, which raises the question of whether that is really sustainable. There is also its domestic human rights record, including the number of executions taking place in China; and the attitude to self-determination in other parts of Chinese territory, such as Tibet.
However, British policy towards China cannot just be one of complaint, and highlighting negatives. There are enormous positives to be found in what it is doing at the moment. As others have mentioned, it is an extraordinary achievement to have lifted millions of people out of poverty. There is a growing awareness of the need for that economic revolution to be sustainable—for resources to be used in a sustainable way, and renewable energy to be brought forward alongside other forms of energy generation. The very existence of the one country, two systems idea can be seen as a Chinese experiment in freedom and democracy. It is positive in that way, and perhaps could not have been imagined by earlier generations.
An intellectual, academic and artistic flowering is also going on in China, which we must see as positive, and which has the potential to benefit not only China but the whole world, given the country’s enormous intellectual and human resources. It would be wonderful to think that Hong Kong could be the shining beacon in the new Chinese revolution, and that the ideas of freedom and democracy could start to be part of a new era for China. It is important that we try to persuade the Chinese Government to see that potential, and, in doing so, stand beside the protesters in Hong Kong, and assure them absolutely of our support for their democratic aspirations.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Weir. I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Graham on obtaining this important debate, and the effective way in which he set out the Hong Kong position today.
Unlike my hon. Friend, or my hon. Friend Geoffrey Clifton-Brown, I cannot claim a long-standing interest in Hong Kong. I have a personal interest, which arises from the fact that my daughter has been resident there since 2010. She is one of 34,000 Britons who live and work in Hong Kong. She has told us how the situation has developed in recent weeks and we have seen things through her eyes. We had a fairly lengthy conversation at the weekend about her concerns, and those of her friends—young people who include both Britons and Hong Kong residents. For my part, I recall watching the handover in July 1997. It was a spectacular event on a wet and windy evening, when the 99-year period of British control came to an end.
I tried to understand a little then about the process by which Hong Kong would be returned to China. It seemed that there was a pretty effective agreement, which offered the best of both worlds to the Chinese Government and to Hong Kong residents, with the notion of a special administrative region retaining its free market economy and other freedoms. I understood at the time that that was broadly intended to last for 50 years after the transfer. Having watched the handover I was quite keen to see what life was like in Hong Kong and that led to my first visit as a tourist in 2007, en route to a holiday in Australia. We spent three days there and saw an ordered, dynamic and exciting place—just the kind of place that would be ideal for a young person starting their career. As my hon. Friend the Member for The Cotswolds said, it was a fantastic place to do business.
With that in mind, when my daughter received the offer of a job with a role in Hong Kong, in 2010, my wife and I were enthusiastic in our guidance to her that she should take it. We based our advice on the fact that the place was secure—she would be both financially and personally secure there. The years that she has spent in Hong Kong have been very happy for her. She has had a great time and made many friends. She has learned a great deal about business and things have gone well. We have looked carefully at the news from Hong Kong and seen how protests have developed. The police we have seen on television have largely remained peaceful and we are still happy for our daughter to remain in Hong Kong, but it is a matter of concern that with substantial numbers of people protesting in a cramped and confined space the relationship between them and the authorities could deteriorate; so our advice to our daughter might change.
Of course, there are many places in the world where the response of the authorities to such protests would be less predictable, and there would be a fear of matters getting out of hand. We all want that to be prevented.
The story that my hon. Friend is telling of his daughter working in Hong Kong, as one of almost 270,000 UK citizens there, reminds us of the enduring links between our country and that territory. Were he and his daughter surprised by the good nature, orderliness and above all peacefulness of that large demonstration a few weeks ago?
I think the answer is that she was not surprised, because having spent so long there she has come to understand the nature of the Hong Kong people and authorities. She has been happy to observe, and to support—without providing physical support—the principles of those who are protesting. I understand that they are concerned largely about the erosion of what they expected in 1997, and the loss of many of the freedoms they expected. That led to the protests that began in September. My observation is that the protestors would like more democracy than the authorities are currently prepared to admit. That situation arises from the decision of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress on electoral reform, with respect to the election of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong, which is of course a very high-profile post.
I understand that the NPCSC will identify two to three electoral candidates before the general public will be able to vote on them. That seems to me to go against the principles set out in the 1997 agreement. In that way, candidates that Beijing might consider unsuitable would be pre-emptively screened out. That would not be considered acceptable in most democracies, and the protestors describe it as fake democracy. That has given rise to the civil disobedience protests. The protestors have the objective of ensuring the right of all to vote; but they would particularly like the resignation of the existing Chief Executive, C.Y. Leung.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend saw the report in The Times today, suggesting that the mainland Chinese Government may make the protests illegal. Will my hon. Friend deprecate that and say that the protests should be allowed to continue, provided that they are peaceful, for as long as it takes, until both sides are satisfied that some progress has been made?
We are looking at these things very much by our standards. We would certainly want to allow such peaceful protest to continue while the protesters want it to. The notion that it might become illegal would be of great concern to those currently engaged in such peaceful protest.
The Chief Executive’s term comes to an end in 2017. He is a figurehead for the authorities in Hong Kong, but in many ways he seems not to have helped matters. His political career has of course been dogged by accusations that he is unduly influenced by Beijing, and there is evidence of that: on his election the Chinese state newspaper, the People’s Daily, referred to him as “comrade”. He decided to implement some pro-China patriotic lessons in schools in Hong Kong, although that was later vetoed, but that compounded the fears of those who saw him as overly influenced by Beijing.
China clearly wants to vet C.Y. Leung’s successors and he supports that, so a big issue for the protestors is that he personally is an obstacle to the pursuit of democratic rights. That is certainly the impression gained by my daughter and her friends.
C.Y. Leung has aggravated the mood of the protesters and those who seek more democracy by recent remarks reported in Tuesday’s South China Morning Post.He said that if the Government met the protestors’ demands, it would
“result in the city’s poorer people dominating elections” and that
“if candidates were nominated by the public then the largest sector of society…would likely dominate the electoral process.”
That is what democracy is all about and such remarks shock those of us who have grown up with the sort of democratic system we enjoy in this country. C.Y. Leung’s reputation has not been helped by an article in the Sydney Morning Herald on
All that has led to the protests and we are pleased that they have been peaceful on the part of protestors and authorities. The umbrella as a symbol of protest is as unthreatening as can be imagined. Many of the young people and British people who have been attracted to Hong Kong sympathise and find themselves supportive of the protestors who are seeking what westerners have always taken for granted.
There are, however, some concerns. The protests have carried on for so long that the blocking of main thoroughfares such as Admiralty, Causeway Bay and Mong Kok is starting to affect people’s daily life. Journeys that previously took 15 minutes are now taking around two hours as people transfer from road to the mass transit railway, which is usually very efficient. That has led to businesses losing trade and concern within the business sector, with some business people beginning to show their frustration with protesters. It has also led to some ordinary people giving the areas of protest a wide berth, which is having an impact on businesses in those areas.
The big question for us to consider—I look forward to the Minister’s response—is what happens next. I have spoken about the economic impact and it has been suggested that Hong Kong’s tourist industry could face its worst decline in a decade. The protests have already prompted some cancellations of hotel bookings. October and November are typically the peak season for its hotel industry as business travellers arrive for trade fairs and exhibitions and there are fears that business travellers will cut short or even cancel their trips because of safety concerns. How that might develop?
What might the Chinese authorities’ longer-term response be? They have made it clear that there will be no concessions on political reform. They are digging in their heels because the international community might see granting a concession as a sign of weakness by Beijing. Where that might go is a concern and clearly the solution should arise from politics rather than force.
Talks took place between student leaders and the Government only yesterday, but I see them in a less positive light than Martin Horwood. They were televised and watched live at protest sites, but the
South China Morning Post reports today that nothing has changed and that the Government have simply offered to submit a report to Beijing reflecting public sentiment, and to consider setting up a platform for dialogue on constitutional development. That sounds as good a description of kicking the matter into long grass as we are ever likely to hear, and we often hear such expressions in this place.
Crucially, the Government have said that there will be no movement on the nomination of candidates and the Government’s remarks through Chief Secretary Lam—that protesters should pursue their ideals in reasonable and lawful ways—may indicate that the occupation of public highways might in time be considered unlawful.
I am largely in sympathy with what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but even in this place—the mother of Parliaments—we are familiar with the phenomenon of authorities not always giving the appearance of being about to make concessions before they go on to make them. China often moves even more gradually and slowly. I do not think the progress by Mr Leung goes far enough—I have said that I support the protestors’ aspirations—but at least it shows a willingness to negotiate and to make some changes to the proposed arrangements, which he should welcome.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I am seeing the events with the eyes of someone who is based in this place and does not have much knowledge of how government works in Beijing. I am taking at them at face value and I am encouraged by his positive response to the report of the outcome of that meeting.
My concerns are for people who are currently living in Hong Kong, and I look forward to hearing from the Minister how our Government can influence the successful outcome of the position today.
As ever, Mr Weir, it is a pleasure to see you in the Chair. I thank Richard Graham for securing this debate. He has a long-standing interest in this part of the world and is chair of the all-party China group. We all have an interest in our historic relationship with Hong Kong and our current financial and economic ties. I do not intend to dwell on those, given the time pressure, but I will focus on the test that one country with two systems is facing with the proposals to move towards universal suffrage, and some of the unhappiness that has been expressed on the streets of Hong Kong about whether those proposals go far enough. The issues are obviously for the Government of China and the Hong Kong special administrative region, but the Minister will agree that the UK also has a responsibility to uphold the joint declaration.
Over the past month, many thousands of Hong Kong citizens, predominantly students and those in the Occupy Central movement, have taken to the streets to protest because they feel the proposals for electing a chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017 do not go far enough. It was interesting that the hon. Gentleman said that many of the protestors were not even born when the joint declaration was signed. I had to do my sums, and I am that old.
The point about the change in identity of the young generation that has grown up in Hong Kong was interesting. The protestors are questioning whether what is being proposed gives Hong Kong the high degree of autonomy guaranteed by the joint declaration and the Basic Law. Article 45 of the Basic Law states:
“The Chief Executive of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally and be appointed by the Central People’s Government.”
It also states that
“the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures.”
That is where we are now, as was confirmed by the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People’s Congress at the end of August.
The concern that has been aired is that there will be only two or three candidates, who will each need to secure the majority approval of the nominating committee. As Geoffrey Clifton-Brown said, the size of that committee has increased substantially from 400 to 1,200 members and many people in Hong Kong feel that they are not being given a genuine choice and that the future chief executive will be too tied to Beijing.
Human Rights Watch estimates that 500,000 people have taken to the streets of Hong Kong this year, although I think the hon. Member for Gloucester said 800,000. We have heard disturbing news of clashes and injuries over the weekend. For the most part, the protests have been peaceful, for which we are thankful, but the response from the police in Hong Kong has been a more serious cause for concern. They have used tear gas and batons to control protestors, and last week we saw images of officers beating a handcuffed protestor. The police department has confirmed that it is investigating the incident, and it is important that reports of excessive use of force are independently investigated.
Amnesty International has reported that the police have failed in their duty to protect the pro-democracy protestors. They report that women and girls have been targeted and subjected to sexual assault and harassment, and witnesses have reported that the police stood by and did nothing. Those reports must be taken seriously by the Hong Kong Government and by the British Government, too.
The joint declaration states:
“Rights and freedoms, including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of travel, of movement, of correspondence, of strike, of choice of occupation, of academic research and of religious belief will be ensured by law in the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”
As a signatory to that binding international treaty, the UK must speak up if the agreement is not fully upheld and if people are under threat of violence or intimidation for exercising those rights and freedoms. As a further point, it is also worrying that the BBC English language website was reportedly blocked in China last week.
On the specific point of arms export licences, it is reported that the tear gas used against protesters was imported from Britain. Worryingly, the Foreign Secretary was quoted as saying that was “immaterial”, because Hong
Kong could buy it from other countries if they did not buy it from the UK. I do not think that is what should pass for a responsible export licensing policy. If the test is simply whether other countries could sell them the product, too, I do not think that is where we should be, and I would be grateful if the Minister could advise us of any review of the relevant export licences.
The Minister may, I hope, have been copied into a letter that Sir John Stanley, the Chair of the Committees on Arms Export Controls, has just sent to the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. It is dated
In addition to the UK’s responsibilities arising from the joint declaration, we must ensure more generally that the commitment to promoting human rights and the rule of law and to supporting democracy as the best means of creating stable, accountable and transparent government is not in doubt. Although I acknowledge that the elections are a matter for the Basic Law rather than the joint declaration, it is still right for us to take an interest. Mark Pawsey talked about concerns expressed by some that if democracy was allowed to take its course, poor people might actually get to wield a degree of influence, or in fact, the majority could decide the outcome of the election. Those comments were quite entertaining, but also made a pertinent point about some people’s definition of democracy differing from other people’s.
I am sure that the Minister will agree with me that the UK Government should not seek to interfere in China’s affairs, but we do have a role to play in safeguarding the principle of one country, two systems, which has worked so well since 1997. Building a constructive, multi-faceted relationship with China that allows our two countries to work together in pursuit of common objectives—so yes, to support our trading ties, our economic and cultural links, and to work with them particularly closely on issues such as climate change—is very important, but it is also important that we have a relationship with China that allows us to engage on areas of disagreement too, including raising human rights concerns.
The FCO’s statements have rightly emphasised how important it is that
“the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice and a real stake in the outcome.”
The Minister’s statement last week likewise said that the transition to universal suffrage should meet
“the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong” and offer them
“a genuine choice in the election”.
Of course, it is not up to us to decide what the aspirations of the Hong Kong people are or how they can be best fulfilled, but we do have a role to play in promoting and encouraging dialogue within Hong Kong and by endorsing the high degree of autonomy that one country, two systems is supposed to safeguard.
As we mark 30 years since the joint declaration was signed, we want to look forward to 2017—to celebrating those 20 years since Hong Kong returned to China. The introduction of universal suffrage, as set out in the Basic Law, will be a fitting tribute to all those who worked so hard to deliver and implement this historic agreement, and who have worked to ensure its success over the past two decades. We trust that the Governments of China and Hong Kong will work with the people of Hong Kong to ensure that the commitment is honoured and that we can deliver Hong Kong’s vision for democracy.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Richard Graham on securing the debate. I do not call him my hon. Friend just as a courtesy; he was my excellent Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office until recently, and I pay tribute to his valuable work, his deep personal interest and his well-informed advice to me on Hong Kong and China over the years.
My hon. Friend’s great expertise, along with the wealth of experience of my predecessors who spoke in the House of Lords debate on Hong Kong last week—and indeed, the extraordinarily good participation that we have had from colleagues across the divide this afternoon—show the depths of knowledge available to the Government on Hong Kong. Incidentally, I would not want people to think that the only interest in Hong Kong is from the people of Gloucestershire, although that is very much how it might look when people see who turned up here this afternoon.
The future of Hong Kong is of great importance to the United Kingdom as a co-signatory of the Sino-British joint declaration, and given the magnitude of our trade, investment, educational, cultural and, of course, historic links. With over 250,000 British citizens and 3 million British national overseas citizens living in the city, more than 500,000 visitors from the UK to Hong Kong last year, and over 560 British companies with offices in Hong Kong, more than 120 of them using it as a base for their Asia-Pacific regional operations, Britain’s relationship with Hong Kong is long-standing, wide-ranging and unique.
We strongly believe that it is the autonomy, rights and freedoms guaranteed by the joint declaration that underpin Hong Kong’s success. As we approach the 30th anniversary of its signature, our commitment to ensuring the faithful implementation of the joint declaration, and the protection of the rights and freedoms it guarantees, is as strong as ever. That is why we have been monitoring events closely and regularly raising Hong Kong at senior levels through official channels in Beijing, Hong Kong and London.
My hon. Friend said he thought that the Government had been a bit slow to respond to developments in Hong Kong; I take a slightly different view. I point out to him that we have been addressing this all year. In May in Beijing, I talked about constitutional reform with the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Wang Guangya. Last week, I saw the Hong Kong Secretary for Justice, Rimsky Yuen, in London, along with our Secretary of State for Justice, and, as has been well publicised and said again this afternoon by Martin Horwood, I met Anson Chan and Martin Lee along with the Deputy Prime Minister at separate meetings back in June.
I also refer to the statements we issued. The Foreign Office issued statements on
Hong Kong has also been discussed by my right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary in a number of meetings, including with Premier Li at the summit in London in June and Vice Premier Ma Kai at the economic and financial dialogue in London in September. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I also discussed Hong Kong with the Chinese ambassador earlier this month. As I am sure my hon. Friend will also readily concede, sometimes megaphone diplomacy is not the best way of proceeding.
I believe that the six-monthly reports that we continue to submit to Parliament on developments in Hong Kong are taken seriously and are widely read by academics, non-governmental organisations and other diplomatic missions in Hong Kong—and, indeed, further afield. I understand that those reports are also widely read by officials and key decision makers in Hong Kong and Beijing.
In the last six-monthly report, the former Foreign Secretary, now my right hon. Friend the Leader of the House, noted that “one country, two systems” continued to work well. Specific evidence for its success includes an independent judiciary and the rule of law. I readily agree with my hon. Friend Geoffrey Clifton-Brown about the importance of that. He asked about judicial independence with regard to the White Paper. I can do no better than quote the noble Lord Neuberger, one of the judges who regularly goes to Hong Kong, who said to Reuters in August 2014 that
“at the moment I detect no undermining of judicial independence”.
He also said:
“If I felt that the independence of the judiciary in Hong Kong was being undermined then I would either have to speak out or I would have to resign as a judge”.
The evidence also includes direct and active participation in political decision making by a number of different political parties; the freedom of Hong Kong people to participate in regular peaceful protests; and the activity of a vibrant and engaged civil society. Indeed, the protests on the streets of Hong Kong in recent weeks have shown that the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, including the right to demonstrate, continue to be respected. It is important for Hong Kong to preserve those rights and for Hong Kong’s people to exercise them within the law.
Kerry McCarthy, who speaks for the Opposition and is looking rather lonely on her side of the divide, asked particularly about allegations of how the police have behaved. We have been watching the reports and following the allegations that the police have used disproportionate force. I very much welcome the investigation that the Hong Kong police have launched into those. I am pleased that the protests have largely been peaceful to date. That is in itself quite an achievement, given the huge numbers of people who have been on the streets, and sometimes in very confined spaces.
The hon. Lady also asked about the use of CS gas and whether the United Kingdom had sold gas to the Hong Kong police. The answer is, yes, we have previously licensed exports of tear gas to Hong Kong, but we will certainly take the recent disturbances in Hong Kong into account when these matters are discussed, as they most properly will be by the Foreign Secretary, who would discuss them with the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. It is worth pointing out that tear gas was used once, at the start of the protests, but not since.
I shall have to get back to the hon. Lady on that, because I genuinely have not seen the letter and was not aware of it until she raised it a few moments ago. I will ensure that we get back to her.
My hon. Friend Mark Pawsey talked about his daughter, who works in Hong Kong, and rightly pointed out the disruption caused to many businesses and the huge inconvenience. I am concerned to hear what he says about the possible negative effect on tourism in Hong Kong. We will continue to follow developments on the ground with keen interest and to remain in regular contact with our consul general in Hong Kong, whom I met in London last week.
The issue at the centre of the protests is, of course, Hong Kong’s democracy and specifically the arrangements for the election of the Chief Executive in 2017. It is perhaps worth underlining some important points. Unlike with Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms, the joint declaration does not deal in the detail of Hong Kong’s democratic arrangements. It provides the essential foundation, including that the legislature be constituted by elections and that the Chief Executive be selected or elected locally. However, the detail of that is set out in the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution that came into force at the time of handover in 1997, and in associated decisions of China’s Parliament, the National People’s Congress.
Her Majesty’s Government have consistently set out our view that Hong Kong’s future is best served by a transition to universal suffrage, in line with the Basic Law and the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong. We firmly believe that greater democracy will help to reinforce Hong Kong’s open society, the rule of law and its capitalist system, which are vital for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity in the long term. But let me make it crystal clear that the detailed arrangements for implementing that are for the people of Hong Kong and the Governments of Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China to determine.
When the National People’s Congress issued its decision in August, we responded by welcoming its reconfirmation that the Chief Executive could be elected by universal suffrage in 2017, but we also acknowledged at the time the disappointment of those in Hong Kong who were hoping for a more open nomination process. However, it is important to recognise that the NPC decision does not represent the last step in this process. It sets the parameters for electoral arrangements for the Chief Executive in 2017, but there is still important detail to be decided before a final package can be presented to Hong Kong’s Legislative Council for debate next year, and of course those arrangements need to be approved by two thirds of the Legislative Council.
The details that still need to be defined include how the nominating committee operates to ensure maximum competition between candidates; transparency; and accountability to the broader public. The Government have made clear our hope that the different sections of Hong Kong society will come together to agree detailed arrangements on these issues that command the broad support of the community as a whole, that are consistent with the Basic Law and that represent a significant step forward on Hong Kong’s democratic journey. That journey then, of course, continues with the elections for the Legislative Council in 2020.
During my visit to Hong Kong last year, I had the opportunity to engage with a wide range of people with divergent views on how to implement a system for universal suffrage. The strength of feeling among Hong Kong people on this issue and their desire to stand up for what they believe in is clear. It is now essential that all sides engage in constructive dialogue, to broker consensus and allow meaningful progress.
I am pleased to see that Carrie Lam, the Chief Secretary of the Hong Kong special administrative region Government, held talks with the Hong Kong Federation of Students yesterday in which she made a commitment to gauge and reflect people’s views. The Hong Kong Government’s suggestion that there is still ample room under the
I emphasised to the Hong Kong Justice Secretary last week the importance of relaunching dialogue with a wide range of people in Hong Kong on these issues. I hope that the second phase of consultation, which is the right method to engage all the citizens of Hong Kong, will begin soon. As the former Foreign Secretary said in his foreword to the last sixth-monthly report to Parliament, published in July, there is no perfect model. What matters is that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice and a real stake in the outcome.
My hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester asked whether the Foreign Office would give an oral statement at the time of the next six-monthly report. That will be in January. I am appearing in front of the Foreign Affairs Committee myself in January, which will provide an ample opportunity to debate these issues. We will consider having a statement at the time, depending on the circumstances. I will say to my hon. Friend that we are having a debate now and he also has the ability to use the Backbench Business Committee if he wishes to have another debate himself.
My hon. Friend asked about the BBC. We have made representations, with our embassy in Beijing, to the Chinese Minister of Foreign Affairs on that subject. My hon. Friend asked whether we had made representations about Parliament’s right to hold inquiries and debates. We have reminded the Chinese Government, in London and Beijing, that the UK Parliament is independent of Government and very well entitled to debate and look into any aspect of Government policy. He asked when I would be going next to Hong Kong. Depending on the Whips, I shall be going there in January.
Given the UK’s strong commercial and trade relationship, shared history and unique commitments to Hong Kong, we care deeply about its future and that of its people. We have a moral obligation and a legitimate interest in the preservation of the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong. We believe that a transition to universal suffrage will safeguard Hong Kong’s future prosperity and stability. That is why we continue to encourage the Governments of Hong Kong and China to find options that offer a genuine choice to the people of Hong Kong in the 2017 election.
I am grateful to hon. Friends and to the shadow Minister for this opportunity to restate clearly the Government’s position on this incredibly important issue and to all those people who follow these matters and contribute to the debate that we need to have in this place.