The outgoing British Consul-General Caroline Wilson has said it is a “remarkable achievement” that there has been only one breach of the “One Country, Two Systems” principle in the almost 20 years since its implementation.
Wilson, who was stationed at the Beijing embassy just after the 1997 handover until 2000, said in an interview with HKFP: “It is always really really important to maintain a historical perspective and a macro perspective on developments.”
Back in 1997 she said that Britain, China and many Hongkongers felt the handover agreement was a good framework, “but nonetheless it was not tested. It was unprecedented. It was absolutely unique.”
But she now says with confidence that it has been an “unprecedented success.”
Wilson did, however, make reference Hong Kong bookseller Lee Bo, a British national who was apparently abducted by mainland agents from Hong Kong last December. Britain said in a report in February that it “constitutes a serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and undermines the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’.”
Wilson said that the incident dented confidence to a certain extent and damaged Hong Kong’s reputation at least temporarily.
“This year, yes, it’s true for the first time we did have to declare there had been a breach – one breach of the Joint Declaration, I think in almost twenty years that is a remarkable achievement to have only said that once,” Wilson said. “And let us hope that that remains a one-off and unprecedented and never-to-be-repeated, and that we will never have to say that again.”
She said the British government has worked hard with its Hong Kong counterpart and the highest-level mainland authorities to make clear their concerns over respecting the One Country, Two Systems framework and the integrity of Hong Kong law enforcement.
“I don’t think lasting damage has been done provided there is no repetition – as I say, there’s no evidence to suggest there will be a repetition, and indeed the evidence says that maybe some lessons have been learned,” she said.
“To that extent, you can say that’s been a success,” she said.
Lee has yet to be charged with anything, although he admitted to illegally running a business sending “banned” books to the mainland in a televised “confession.” Lee returned to Hong Kong in March for the first time.
Wilson said that the Hong Kong government’s recent move – to ensure proper communication channels are in place to ensure the rights and freedom of Hongkongers are respected even when they are on the mainland – was “incredibly important.”
As for the role of the UK, Wilson said: “As a co-signatory of the Joint Declaration and a country that has very serious stake in Hong Kong – moral, political… we do absolutely have influence also in terms of ensuring Hong Kong’s international reputation is preserved.”
Asked as to whether the UK will take on a more active role, Wilson said: “Hong Kong citizens are very capable of speaking for themselves, so we don’t need to speak for Hong Kong citizens.”
“What we do speak for are the obligations and the commitments that we have made as the United Kingdom which, yes, protect the rights and freedom of Hong Kong citizens… we have been very active, so actually nobody has suggested – [that] I have been aware of in recent times – that we should be more active.”
Returning to the UK, Wilson said she will work in London in the field of European Union relations. Andrew Heyn will replace her as Consul General.