A SIGNIFICANT moment in Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s political career was the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration alongside Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang in December 1984. The treaty released Hong Kong from its standing as a colony of the United Kingdom, and whilst the region was handed over to China, it was granted unique status with special protections. In recent years, these safeguards have been repeatedly abused by the People’s Republic of China, rendering the 1984 treaty worthless, and exposing the people of Hong Kong to a brutal Communist regime.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration guarantees Hong Kong’s status as Special Administrative Region for 50 years starting from its implementation on 1 July 1997, in other words until 2047. The treaty outlines the exclusive rights of the Hong Kong people, 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’, and emphasises that they will be guaranteed in law by the region’s administration. It is also stressed that Hong Kong will be ‘vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication’.
In the past decade, however, with Premier Xi Jinping seeking to consolidate his power, China has repeatedly infringed upon and broken the terms of the 1984 treaty. It has influenced legal rulings such as the ousting of the pro-democracy opposition lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung, it has kidnapped political bookseller Lam Wing-kee, who has since left Hong Kong, and it has started banning journalists such as the Financial Times’s Victor Mallet from entering the city.
For the last ten weeks, millions of Hong Kong citizens have been taking to the streets to protest against Chief Executive Carrie Lam’s proposed Extradition Bill which would see fugitives sent to Taiwan, Macau and even mainland China. They have done so under the threat of the intervention of the military might of China’s People’s Liberation Army, who on 31 July were seen conducting anti-riot drills in Hong Kong. The region is even under threat from Hollywood, with Chinese-born naturalised US citizen and Mulan actress Liu Yifei expressing support for the Hong Kong police, who have deployed brute force against protesters, and Hong Kong-born star of The Karate Kid Jackie Chan siding with the mainland Republic over the semi-autonomous city. Meanwhile the Chinese Ambassador has been granted the BBC’s high-profile platform to warn against Britain ‘interfering in Hong Kong’s affairs’.
As a former British colony, it is imperative that Hong Kong is defended by the UK, and that China is reminded of its promises as legally set out by the Joint Declaration. A recent paper published by the Adam Smith Institute, entitled ‘Doing Our Duty’, sets this out. It proposes, inter alia, that the UK government offer automatic citizenship to the 169,000 Hong Kong residents with British National (Overseas) status. It also suggests the Johnson government should act immediately by ‘either granting asylum without restriction on work and residency for Hong Kongers fleeing the regime, or, more liberally . . . extending the designation of British National (Overseas) to all current residents of Hong Kong, with an extension of the rights of that designation to be equivalent to that of British Citizens as defined under the British Nationality Act 1981’.
The Communist Party of China is trying to break Hong Kong, and the United Kingdom has a clear duty to play a front-and-centre role in liberating the citizens of its former colony. But while the British government must urgently send a clear signal that the people of Hong Kong are not for sale to China, that they are welcome in the UK should they require our hospitality, it must also make clear that the rights of Hong Kong citizens as set out in the 1997 Declaration are non-negotiable.
Not only would this move mean a ‘moral and material victory‘ for Britain through our gaining of many skilled, English-speaking, culturally-aligned people, but it would put pressure on China to respect the Joint Declaration of 1997 which guarantees Hong Kong’s freedom until 2047 and allow the region to prosper without interference from Beijing.