Hong Kong crisis: UK ‘deeply concerned’ as foreign ministers sign joint letter to China

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Downing Street said the Government was “deeply concerned” after China’s ceremonial legislature, the National People’s Congress, endorsed a security law for Hong Kong that puts Beijing at loggerheads with the UK and US. The law alters the territory’s mini-constitution, or Basic Law, to require its government to enforce measures to be decided later by Chinese leaders.

We are deeply concerned about China’s legislation related to national security in Hong Kong

Downing Street spokesman

Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “We are deeply concerned about China’s legislation related to national security in Hong Kong.

“We have been very clear that the security legislation risks undermining the principle of one country, two systems.

“We are in close contact with our international partners on this and the Foreign Secretary spoke to US Secretary Pompeo last night.

“The steps taken by the Chinese government place the Joint Declaration under direct threat and do undermine Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab earlier joined foreign ministers from Australia, Canada and the US to call for China to work with the government of Hong Kong to find a “mutually acceptable accommodation that will honour China’s international obligations” under the Joint Declaration.

The signatories to the joint statement – Mr Raab, Australian foreign minister Marise Payne, Canadian foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne and United States Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – stated their “deep concern” over Beijing’s move.

They wrote: “China’s decision to impose the new national security law on Hong Kong lies in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally-binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration. The proposed law would undermine the One Country, Two Systems framework.

“It also raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, and undermines existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people – including those set out in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

“We are also extremely concerned that this action will exacerbate the existing deep divisions in Hong Kong society; the law does nothing to build mutual understanding and foster reconciliation within Hong Kong.”

Shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy said the UK must be more robust with Beijing.

She told the BBC: “This is the latest in a series of attempts by China to start to erode the joint declaration which Britain co-signed with the Chinese government when we handed over Hong Kong, and protected its special status.

“That is the document, the basis for the rights that people in Hong Kong enjoy, the freedoms, the human rights, democracy and the rule of law that has lasted since then.

“And last year we had the extradition bill, which attempted to encroach on those rights and freedoms. And since then we have seen a series of attempts to continue to do that.

“We want to see the UK Government really step up now.”

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Tory former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said the UK should bring together a coalition of countries to avoid a tragedy in the territory.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “This is definitely the most dangerous period there has ever been in terms of that agreement.

“With our unique legal situation, Britain does have a responsibility now to pull together that international coalition and to do what we can to protect the people of Hong Kong.

“China is not going to listen to any one country on this but it may, and it is certainly more likely, to listen to a group of countries acting together.”

The move by China prompted Washington to announce that it will no longer treat Hong Kong as autonomous from Beijing.

Activists in Hong Kong have complained that the law will undermine civil liberties and might be used to suppress political activity.

Beijing blocked a UN Security Council meeting to discuss the legislation on Wednesday, with China’s UN ambassador, Zhang Jun, tweeting that Hong Kong is “purely China’s internal affairs”.

Hong Kong ceased being a UK territory in 1997 under an agreement with Beijing dubbed “one country, two systems” in which it was allowed some autonomy.

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