THE shocking violence of the Hong Kong protests and the underwhelming reaction of HM Government is a sad indictment of the UK’s standing in the world. For Conservative Party members, the lack of response to Beijing’s naked aggression is particularly painful to witness. It comes on the back of a long period of supine Sino-British relations, with the UK now appearing to occupy the passive side of the relationship.
The original impetus to establish a trading presence in Hong Kong came in 1841 from that great Conservative Prime Minister Lord Palmerston, who sought a base so that British merchants ‘may not be subject to the arbitrary caprice either of the Government of Peking or its local Authorities at the Sea-Ports of the Empire’. How horrified he would be at what has become of this venture.
For over a hundred years, despite the tumultuous cultural and political change in the region, the guiding hand of liberal, positive non-interventionism allowed an economic powerhouse to emerge, with personal liberty a natural and welcome consequence.
Political dissent and debate, personal freedom and human rights were tolerated and encouraged to the extent that Hong Kong has become a beacon of hope in East Asia and inspired millions of oppressed people in the region. The Conservative Party should be proud and vocal about how this came about, from one of our greatest leaders. Yet I have not heard a single prominent Conservative MP making this case.
Since the handover of power in 1997, the Chinese Communist Party which rules China from Beijing has undertaken a campaign of attrition against the democratic and liberal institutions of Hong Kong. The accession of Xi Jinping as President of the People’s Republic of China has seen a marked acceleration from Beijing in its assault upon Hong Kong democracy.
In recent times, we have seen a litany of offences from the Chinese Communist Party that directly contravene its pledge to uphold ‘One Country Two Systems’, the formula which allowed Hong Kong to retain its own economic and administrative systems until at least 2047:
· 31 August 2014: Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) prescribed a selective pre-screening of candidates for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s chief executive. In effect, this means that Beijing will appoint the holder of the highest political position in Hong Kong.
· October-December 2015: Causeway Bay Books disappearances – one of the five men abducted by Beijing, Lee Bo, is a dual Chinese-British national.
· July 2016: Exclusion of Legislative Council election candidates on the basis of political beliefs.
· 2 December 2018: Disqualification of Eddie Chu Hoi-dick from holding electoral office due to political beliefs. It is the first time that an incumbent Hong Kong legislator has been disqualified from running for another election owing to political beliefs.
· March 2019: Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill, or the Hong Kong Extradition Bill, formalises Beijing’s state-sanctioned kidnapping of dissidents residing in Hong Kong.
The subversion of Hong Kong’s democratic institutions and the erosion of the long-established rights of its people is breaking down One Country Two Systems. Unfortunately, the response from the United Kingdom to the blatant disregard for the Sino-British Joint Declaration is too often limited and underwhelming.
At the same time, we have seen the Government negotiating a series of alarming economic agreements with Chinese companies which directly imperil our national security and offer precious few guarantees of avoiding future interference in critical national infrastructure by the Chinese Communist Party:
· UK’s 5G telecommunications infrastructure: Huawei has close ties to China’s People’s Liberation Army.
· Hinkley Point C nuclear power station: State-owned CGN of China is a key investor.
This is particularly concerning since all Chinese organisations and citizens are compelled to ‘support, assist and co-operate with state intelligence work’ under China’s National Intelligence Law 2017. The mere fact that this law exists should be a red flag and must be taken into account when deciding whether to open up the United Kingdom’s economy, infrastructure and civil institutions to Chinese state-owned and ‘private’ companies. Too often we have seen the short-term economic incentives of Chinese investment overrule long-term security concerns when decisions are made in Whitehall.
On 26 September, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said he was ‘seriously concerned by the situation in Hong Kong’ while ‘condemning the violence that we have seen on the streets of Hong Kong’ – not by Chinese authorities but by the pro-democracy protesters.
Is this an adequate response to the desperate pleas of young people whose families grew up in a system of liberal economics and personal freedom?
They were flying British flags at one point in the search for solidarity. How have we reciprocated? Has the United Kingdom abandoned its moral obligation to preserve the democracy, freedom and human rights that is our legacy in Hong Kong?
The received wisdom is that the UK is currently isolated due to Brexit somehow, and that this is a justification for the complete lack of engagement on this topic. Unfortunately, this idea is a useful excuse for inaction.
The United States is perceived to be isolated at the moment, yet this has not stopped the United States Congress from passing a very strong resolution which directly links China’s status as Most Favoured Nation in the WTO with an annual report on its human rights abuses.
There is an increasing level of judicial activism in this country with regard to arms sales to Saudi Arabia. It would seem eminently sensible for a proud trading nation like the UK to take a similar stance on the opening up of its entire national infrastructure to a rapacious and unrepentant PRC.
I understand that the Prime Minister has his hands full at the moment, and I applaud his ability to emerge with solutions to difficult problems.
In the case of China, though, this cuts to the heart of our identity as a party. Do we stand for the historic achievements of this country in establishing liberal political and economic entities across the world to facilitate human progress and freedom, or do we reject it? Do we stand up for British values as Conservatives, or are they up for compromise when provision of funding is at stake?
I would like to see our Government and senior figures from our party immediately condemn the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression against the people of Hong Kong. Alongside this there should be a cessation of all talks regarding 5G and other infrastructure investment until the violence in Hong Kong ends and China returns to respecting the One Country Two Systems principle.
In all our future interactions with China, we should remember the words of Palmerston:
’We have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual, and those interests it is our duty to follow.’