The outgoing British Consul-General Caroline Wilson said in an interview with HKFP that the UK does not support independence for Hong Kong and it “has never been an option” for the city.
“It doesn’t make any sense, quite frankly,” she said.
But on the issue of debating independence in Hong Kong schools, she said: “I think it’s very important that everybody is well-informed and that there can be open debate.”
“If you look at the situation [with] universities in the UK… there are rules about people exploiting, say an academic position, to propagandise or use it as a purely political platform,” she said. “Having said that, you have to have open debate in universities, there is a balance to be struck between not engaging in, say, politics while being able to look at both sides of a political argument – that is incredibly important.”
“And it’s very important that people are able to develop an inquisitive approach to matters,” she added.
With regards to the disqualification of pro-independence candidates in Hong Kong’s legislative elections, Wilson declined to comment on topics subject to legal cases. But when asked whether candidates who support Scotland’s independence could run for election in Britain, Wilson said the situations in Hong Kong and the UK were different.
She said the UK co-signed the Joint Declaration which gave rise to Hong Kong’s autonomy, though it is also recognises that the city is part of China. “That shouldn’t unduly restrict rights and freedoms, I don’t think it does,” she added. “I think it just requires an intelligent approach.”
She stopped short of elaborating on what the approach entailed.
Despite recent controversies in the city, Wilson said “I don’t tend to worry,” saying that Hong Kong is in a fantastically good place when people look at the global challenges other places are facing.
“I think Hong Kong can be – and will continue to be – a great success,” she said.
‘Art of compromise’
Speaking about Sunday’s Legislative Council elections, she said she was told it was going to be unpredictable.
“What is important I think is that there is a very inclusive political process here… generally speaking, I don’t feel that exclusion is a good idea, young people need to be brought in – people need to be brought in – they need to feel they have a stake that they can play a part – a constructive part.”
“Politics and government is ultimately about getting people on board, and it is often about the art of compromise actually, in order to move things forward, and that is something I think perhaps Hong Kong needs to work on in the future, with the new legislature, with the new government.”
Wilson said during a live session two weeks ago that the pro-democracy occupy protests in 2014 was one of her most challenging periods.
Commenting on it once again, Wilson said that Hong Kongers were able to demonstrate for a long period of time and that it ended peacefully, “[I]t demonstrates the uniqueness of One Country, Two Systems.”
“People will say this is a bad time for Hong Kong – other people will say actually it shows how engaged people are. The greatest danger is political apathy, but having people engaged is a good thing,” she said. “It’s important to channel that political energy, because ultimately you don’t want people on the streets all day, do you?”
“It’s often easy to criticise from the sidelines, and to criticise politicians and governments and everybody else for not doing good enough job, but people should try maybe getting into a place of authority where they have to govern and see how it feels, because it’s not always easy.”
Wilson stated that universal suffrage for the Chief Executive elections was not stated in the Joint Declaration but it was stipulated in the Basic Law by Beijing. She said one-person-one-vote would help resolve what is the interests of the city as a whole.
She also reiterated the British government’s position on the last political reform package proposed by the government. The package, which stated that Chief Executive candidates must first be vetted by a nomination committee, was not ideal, but the UK said it would have represented an important step forward.
Wilson previously emphasised the work of the consulate in the aspect of LGBT rights and said it was incredibly important to highlight the need to push forward.
“I feel this has risen up the agenda in the past four years, and I think there will be progress in the next few years – I am sure there will,” she said.
— UK in Hong Kong (@UKinHongKong) November 6, 2015
She said that before it could host same-sex marriage ceremonies, the consulate needed to consult the host government to ensure that there was no objection.
“Unfortunately the SAR government have raised an objection to us conducting same-sex marriages, so we will continue pushing this agenda, and continue trying to see progress,” she said.
“We’ve received a formal diplomatic note from the SAR government saying that we can’t conduct them.”
She said there was no reason given, and that it was a rather unusual reply compared to other governments. She noted that same-sex marriages of British nationals can be conducted on the mainland.
“I understand that there are concerns about the number of BN(O)s [British National (Overseas) passport holders] who might also qualify… maybe they are worried about potential numbers and it might sort of circumvent Hong Kong local legislation in this respect.”
She also said that she recently spoke to the Chief Executive and the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs last week over discrimination issues.
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.