We’re a group of concerned Hongkongers. Today, on the first day of Boris Johnson’s premiership, we are calling for the UK’s new Prime Minister to stand up for freedom in Hong Kong. We believe it is in Britain’s national interest that the declaration signed by Prime Minister Thatcher in 1984 with the Chinese is upheld and that it is shown to the world that Britain keeps her promises.
In 1984, Margaret Thatcher travelled to Beijing to sign the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Thatcher’s deal with Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang was simple – Hong Kong would be returned from British rule in 1997 at the end of the UK’s 99 year lease – but the fundamental freedoms that had created an economic powerhouse on the peninsula would remained untouched for a minimum period of 50 years. Those freedoms included the capitalist economic model, the right to freedom of expression and assembly, and the rule of law overseen by an independent judiciary that, to this day, continues to use British judges and legal expertise. It is this freedom that has made Hong Kong near unique in the region.
Time is not on our side. The draconian Extradition Bill, if passed, will make it easy for China to persecute critics in Hong Kong. This is just one of a number of autocratic measures pushed with Beijing’s knowledge, that we believe violates the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Police brutality has never been so bad. Our friends have witnessed police violence (upon orders from an Executive that is increasingly in thrall to Beijing) on a scale unimaginable even a few years ago.
Hongkongers who were part of the Umbrella Movement are terrified by how bad things have become, so quickly. Journalists covering our peaceful protests have had rubber bullets shot directly at their faces and at close range to either injure the press or raise the stakes so high that free reporting becomes almost impossible. British trained police officers, once viewed as guarantors of liberty, now find themselves being given orders that have turned them into part of the apparatus of the state.
The Extradition Bill is not just a threat to Hongkongers. If passed, HSBC executives from London could also face being charged by China for wrongdoing and ending up facing judgement in Chinese courts which are little more than the enforcement arm of the Communist party. Everyone in Hong Kong knows how dangerous extradition is. Booksellers known for selling political books disappeared from Hong Kong and showed up months later in Chinese courts offering confessions of wrongdoing. Confessions are often obtained by torture. There are nearly 35,000 Britons in Hong Kong – we’re calling on British parliamentarians to protect both us and your citizens.
Prime Minister Johnson you can stop this. China should be held to its promises. You can stop the situation getting worse and stand up for a promise Britain made to Hongkongers. We believe the UK government should urgently review the current situation and be prepared to declare that China has breached the Joint Declaration, raising international pressure for China to meet its obligations. Like the penalties proposed under the US Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act (2019), the UK government could legislate to impose sanctions on the key individuals or state enterprises in China whose business interests could put pressure on the Chinese government. Moreover, there are rights we believe that are not negotiable. We are also calling upon Britain to include provisions on human rights, civil liberties and democratisation in any post-Brexit agreements with Hong Kong and China.
There is a very real risk Hong Kong will lose its freedom. This will have a hugely detrimental impact on the strong economic links between the UK and Hong Kong. If liberty dims in Hong Kong and Britain fails to uphold its promise, it will send a signal to China that a key Western state can be pushed around. A small step now, could prevent a worse situation in the years ahead.
Under a new Prime Minister, the UK can stand with Hongkongers and uphold their freedom.
You can sign the petition here.
The writers are Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.