The UK is not living up to its obligations with regards to Hong Kong, a report by a UK Human Rights Commission has suggested.

The report, released Tuesday by the UK’s Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, urges the British government to reconsider its approach to China in light of an “unprecedented” crackdown on human rights since President Xi Jinping assumed power in 2013.

Cover of the report. Photo: Screenshot.

The Commission was particularly concerned about the erosion of freedoms in Hong Kong since 1997, pointing to China’s doubling-back on its promise to allow democratic elections for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive in 2017, its handling of the ensuing protests, and the disappearance of five booksellers. It said the three cases illustrated the threat to human rights in its former colony. Evidence received by the commission “indicates a severe breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the Basic Law,” says the report.

‘An obligation’

It quotes Chris Patten, the former governor of Hong Kong, as saying that the UK government has an obligation to check on whether China is keeping its side of the bargain and the report suggests that Britain does not seem to be living up to its obligations.

“When China asserts that what is happening in Hong Kong is nothing to do with us we should make it absolutely clear publicly and privately that that is not the case,” the report quoted Patten as saying to the BBC in 2014. “It is amazing that when they say that sort of thing the [British] Foreign Office doesn’t make a fuss – because the Joint Declaration provides obligations on China to us for 50 years. [It] is the Joint Declaration, not the Chinese declaration.”

The report contains evidence from Chen Guangcheng, Anson Chan, Anastasia Lin, Joshua Wong, and Angela Gui.

Relationship ‘deeply troubling’ 

The Commission criticised the UK’s reluctance to speak up on human rights in China and its poor response to the situation in Hong Kong, saying that “economic interests appear to be overriding other important concerns in our relationship with China.” Specifically, it says that the position set out by Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne expressing a desire for a “golden relationship with China” and to become “China’s best partner in the West”, is “deeply troubling” without public expressions of concern about the human rights situation in China.

Britain’s Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne (C) speaks during a dialogue of “Driving the Economy through Technology”, in Beijing, September 20, 2015. Photo: Reuters/Jason Lee.

It says: “our government, along with other governments, should place human rights at the centre of our relationship with China, should raise human rights concerns at every appropriate opportunity, and should do so publicly as well as in private discussions,” and make it clear in its relationship with China that “we are on the side of the people of China.”

Among 22 recommendations, the Commission urged a review of the mechanisms for monitoring the UK’s obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration for Hong Kong and proposed redress mechanisms to authorities in Hong Kong and mainland China to “unequivocally” support the basic rights of Hong Kong people. It also called for more efforts on behalf of British citizens detained in China, such as in the case of Lee Bo, the Hong Kong bookseller.

Catherine Lai

Catherine is a Canadian journalist and photographer who lived in Beijing for almost two years, working in TV and online media. Aside from Hong Kong and mainland affairs, she is also interested in urban spaces, art and feminism. She holds a BA in Literature and Art History from the University of British Columbia.