Democracy in Hong Kong

Part of Rail Services (Bedfordshire) – in Westminster Hall at 5:34 pm on 23rd January 2018.

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Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health) 5:34 pm, 23rd January 2018

I thank Fiona Bruce for her contribution. She is clearly a lady with a big heart, and she presented the case very well. Well done to her. Last week in the Holocaust debate, I quoted a poem:

“First they came…
and I did not speak out.”

I recognise that we are not talking about the same thing today, but there is a similarity that we should speak out about. Looking at the situation in Hong Kong and the response to date, I am uncomfortable, as other hon. Members have said that they are.

I often say that I am proud to be a Member of Parliament in the greatest seat of democracy in the world. It is an honour that I do not take lightly. While I am standing here representing my constituents, I am mindful that with great power comes great responsibility. I am sorry to say—please do not interpret my words as an attack on anyone in this place—that we are not living up to our responsibility when it comes to Hong Kong. It is good to see the Minister in his place. I believe there is no better person to respond to this debate, and I mean that with all sincerity. I look forward to his response.

We all know the background: Hong Kong was handed back to China in 1997 following the 1984 agreement between China and Britain. China agreed to govern Hong Kong on the principle of “one country, two systems,” and the city would be able to enjoy a high degree of autonomy, except on foreign and defence affairs, for 50 years, as Colin Clark said very clearly. I am not a mathematician, but we have not reached the end of those 50 years. If a loan had been defaulted on, we would not write it off; where there is a prison sentence, we would not allow early release; yet here we appear to have backed off. As I often say, “so sad, too bad.” The abuse of human rights, the right to worship and the right to express oneself in a democratic process—we have a responsibility to these people, and we are not fulfilling it.

As chair of the all-party parliamentary group for international freedom of religion or belief, I take very seriously any form of persecution, and I am constantly asking the Government—as the Minister knows—to step in and speak out on behalf of these people. People who have arranged peaceful protests are being imprisoned. Three and a half years ago, I served on the armed forced parliamentary scheme run by the Royal College of Defence Studies. One of the representatives there was the chief of Hong Kong police. He told me about the number of protests, because I was interested to hear how things were going, and he illustrated to me that protests were able to go ahead. Today they are not. Today people are under the cosh. Today, they can face a jail sentence. We have to step out against that.

Avery Ng, the chairman of the League of Social Democrats, told The Guardian:

“It is ridiculous for the Chinese government to claim that the joint declaration is a historical document. You don’t sign a contract and claim that it is historical the second day after the contract was signed.”

How true that is! He continued:

“I believe the UK government has legal, moral and political responsibility to come out and say the right thing.”

I agree with those sentiments, and while I do not believe that we have humiliated ourselves—I do not say that for one second—we have not draped ourselves in honour, either.

Yes, we would appreciate a good relationship with China to enhance trade, especially in a post-Brexit Britain, but we cannot sell ourselves, our integrity or our obligations off to achieve this. Our products are top-quality. Our relationship has gradually built up. While I firmly believe that organising a boycott of Chinese products would be counterproductive and the wrong thing to do, I do not believe that we have lost the ability to speak out about our former colony, and to instigate a real and meaningful discussion regarding these cases and what they mean for the people of Hong Kong.

Last sentence, Mr Streeter. I am asking the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for more than a strongly worded email. Let us discuss this face-to-face and make the case for those who are not being allowed to speak out for themselves. I often say that we speak for those who have no voice.