A UK-based Hong Kong watchdog has suggested the London should include reference to the human rights guarantees within the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration in any future free trade agreement with the city.
Hong Kong Watch, which researches and monitors threats to the city’s basic freedoms, rule of law and human rights, made the suggestion in a written submission to the UK parliament’s Joint Committee on Human Rights at a hearing on Wednesday.
At the meeting, Fiona Bruce MP – chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission – asked for a response from Lord Ahmad, minister of state for the Commonwealth and United Nations. Bruce said that rights guarantees made in the Joint Declaration should be restated.
The Joint Declaration stated that Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms including those of the person, of speech, of the press, of assembly, of association, of academic research, among others, will be ensured by law after the 1997 Handover.
Lord Ahmad said he would take the suggestion back to officials.
“But I take a more general view, if I may answer in that way, that I think that where there are obligations that have been signed up to, it is of course incumbent upon us, as it would be for any government which subscribes to human rights, to ensure those obligations are upheld,” he said.
Hong Kong Watch also suggested that a parliamentary commission or committee should be set up to monitor the implementation of international agreements, with a specific mandate to report every six months on the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, the group said, should conduct an inquiry into breaches of the declaration.
In the written submission, Hong Kong Watch listed several breaches of the 1984 agreement, including the abduction of booksellers, imprisonment of activists, the de facto expulsion of Financial Times Asia News Editor Victor Mallet, the disqualification of election candidates and lawmakers, the banning of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party and the undermining of academic freedom, among others.
“Until recently, the United Kingdom government had been reluctant to comment vocally, annually commenting that ‘one country, two systems generally function well’ in their report on the situation in Hong Kong,” it said.
“Following vocal comments from Parliamentarians, and in light of the crackdown, the UK government have more consistently raised breaches of the Joint Declaration in their dialogue with the government of Hong Kong in the last year.”
“It is vital that Parliamentarians keep the pressure up to ensure that the United Kingdom takes a robust line and does not renege on its international commitments to Hong Kong.”
The Joint Committee coincided with a meeting between Financial Secretary Paul Chan, Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Edward Yau and the UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox in Davos on Wednesday.
They discussed issues relating to forging closer bilateral economic ties, including exploring the possibility of a free trade agreement in future as London grapples with its exit from the European Union. Yau told Fox that Hong Kong welcomes more British companies setting up offices in Hong Kong and making use of the city to enter the mainland market.
Meanwhile, former Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker Emily Lau also sent a written submission to the Joint Committee on Human Rights, urging the British government to give British Nationals (Overseas) holders right of abode in the UK, “so they can have somewhere to go to if things go wrong.”
“They know it is a long shot but feel that Britain has a moral and political responsibility to help the British Nationals (Overseas) in distress. I hope the Joint Committee will study the Hong Kong problem and understand the problems faced by the Hong Kong people,” Lau wrote.
There are around three million Hong Kong people who obtained the British National (Overseas) passport before the 1997 Handover. The passport can only be used as travel document and does not give the holder the right of abode in the United Kingdom.