Democracy in Hong Kong

Part of Rail Services (Bedfordshire) – in Westminster Hall at 5:16 pm on 23rd January 2018.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Labour, Hornsey and Wood Green 5:16 pm, 23rd January 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Streeter. I congratulate Fiona Bruce on her excellent introduction and her commitment over the long term to the people of Hong Kong. As a former shadow Minister for Asia and as a patron of Hong Kong and deputy chair of the all-party parliamentary China group, I congratulate others for joining in the debate and for expressing our concern about human rights, democracy and individual freedoms.

As we reflect on the past 20 years, it is important to pay tribute to the Hong Kong Government for the significant steps forward they have taken since handover, from minimum wage legislation to anti-corruption drives, clean water initiatives and huge investments in public infrastructure projects. As we look forward to the next 20 years, we should pause to remember the past 20, and how important the principles of the joint declaration are for the flourishing of Hong Kong’s economy and society. The dynamism and entrepreneurial spirit of the Hong Kong people has allowed Hong Kong to flourish under the joint declaration. There is no reason why that should not continue.

The UK-Hong Kong relationship has deepened. More than 600 UK businesses with registered offices in Hong Kong, an export market worth £8.6 billion and a UK investment stake of more than £33 billion are clear signs that trade is booming. In terms of academic and cultural exchange, more Hong Kong students are enrolling at UK universities than ever before, which is an achievement to celebrate. In part, the relationships we form with students, young people and young democrats redouble our efforts to commit ourselves to a more socially just society based on individual freedoms and human rights.

We are all aware of the high-profile cases raised in connection with the topic of the debate, including the arrests of the booksellers. It is interesting that today’s papers highlight the case of Gui Minhai, the Swedish national who does not understand why he has been arrested. It is unclear whether he has any legal support. Conversations are going on between Sweden and China, but that case emphasises how surprising such acts can be. At one moment, one can be debating a good trade relationship and things can feel so normal, but in another situation things can seem so strange. When we try to develop a good relationship with China along trade lines, we must be brave and talk about the issues that are important to us.

On 28 March 2017, I asked the Minister’s predecessor as Minister for Asia, Alok Sharma, how confident he was that the Hong Kong Government were committed to genuinely democratic elections. He stated that it was the Government’s view that the best way to secure the future of one country, two systems was through a transition to universal suffrage. I would be grateful if this Minister would give us an indication of the timescale or of what progress might have been made in tackling that fundamental issue of universal suffrage.

Secondly, the issue of functional constituencies continues to be an area of concern when it comes to creating a system of fair and genuine democratic representation. I recognise that the functional constituencies are somewhat a hangover from pre-handover days, but I should be grateful if the Minister would clarify the Government’s position on whether they should play a lasting role in the democracy of Hong Kong, and whether he has discussed the issue with his counterparts in Hong Kong or Beijing.

Thirdly, I wonder what action the Minister has taken to raise the jailing of Hong Kong journalists. The tension between democracy and governance, journalism and the free expression of speech is obviously something that means a great deal to many of us in the Chamber. Could the Minister please give us an update on what progress is being made to discuss genuine freedom of speech in Hong Kong? Of course, Hong Kong has always treasured that; it has always had a lively bookselling tradition and a lively journalistic environment. As we move into an increasingly globalised age, such questions are also crucial around social media. I should be grateful if the Minister would give me an idea of his views on that.

I have one minute to go. Marking the anniversary of the handover, the Foreign Secretary issued a very carefully worded statement, in which he made no specific reference to the persisting cases or concerns outlined by hon. Members today. As a guarantor of the joint declaration, a treaty lodged at the United Nations, it is our responsibility to ensure that its principles are upheld, working with our Chinese counterparts. Following the delegation of young LegCo Members last year, hosted by Lord Collins of Highbury from the other place, I pledged to those young representatives that I would continue to press our Government to ensure that the spirit of the joint declaration is upheld. I hope that, through debates like these, we can continue to be vigilant, to promote human rights, democracy and individual freedom on behalf of Hongkongers.