I remember when the discussions were going on about the future of Hong Kong. There was particular interest in Northern Ireland. I was a member of the Chinese chamber of commerce in Northern Ireland; a lot of the members came from Hong Kong or had families there and were very concerned about the future. Of course, Chris Patten had been a member of the Administration in Northern Ireland when the Anglo-Irish agreement was signed and we were moving toward discussions about the future of Northern Ireland, which culminated in the Belfast agreement. Given that the Government had expressly stated that they had no economic, strategic or selfish interests in Northern Ireland, there was a certain affinity with people in Hong Kong who were facing an uncertain future.
Thankfully, despite all the fears about Britain’s exit, or Brexit, from Hong Kong—people thought capital would flee from Hong Kong, industry would be decimated, people would want to leave and the whole economic dynamics of the Hong Kong economy would be affected—that did not happen. Perhaps there are lessons for today from those kinds of warnings.
The commitments was made to the people of Hong Kong that although China would now have control, it would be one country but two systems. Nothing would change for 50 years. Freedoms they had experienced would be guaranteed. As has been shown this afternoon, if we look at the way in which deteriorations in human rights and freedoms have manifested, especially recently, whether we are talking about the abduction of booksellers and businessmen, interference with the judiciary, attacks on journalists or the way in which protestors have been treated, there has quite clearly been an erosion of the freedoms that people were promised. It is significant that the man who did the deal has said that perhaps we should have done more. Chris Patten has expressed concerns about what is going on in Hong Kong.
The one thing that the Chinese do not like—this is quite clear in all dealings with them—is public criticism. We saw that when we were asked to ensure that protesters were kept off the streets of London during the state visit of the Chinese Premier; it showed how, for the Chinese, public criticism rankles. It is important that where these deficiencies are identified, our Government speak out against them, not only privately but publicly. There are some people who say that we look to China as one of our big export markets, and that there are trade implications to speaking out. I do not believe that. One need only look at how in the past Presidents of the United States, for example, have publicly criticised China, and it has not led to the kind of sanctions that one would expect. The one ask I have of the Government is this: let us not be mealy-mouthed in ensuring that the protections that we gave and promised to the people of Hong Kong are delivered.