Britain’s minister for Asia Mark Field has said he has seen “no evidence” of any political factors involved in Hong Kong’s recent jailing of pro-democracy activists.
Activists Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow were sentenced to six to eight months last Thursday over their involvement in a clash which sparked the 2014 pro-democracy Occupy protests. The Department of Justice appealed for harsher sentences, arguing that the community service orders they received did not serve as a deterrent to activists disrupting public order.
Field told reporters at the UK consulate on Friday that London was committed to its Handover agreement with Beijing: “Hong Kong’s success relies upon the rights and freedoms protected by that international treaty that refers to autonomy, the rule of law and an independent judiciary.”
He added that the government’s move to appeal the activists’ sentences was not a “novel procedure” at odds with Hong Kong’s autonomy, and that Britain respects the right to free and peaceful demonstration.
“We have taken on board the reassurances made by the bar council of Hong Kong and the Law Society, that they feel there is no question of there being political interference.”
The stance echoes comments from Justice Secretary Rimsky Yuen. In a column on Thursday, Yuen slammed claims that that the jailings amounted to political persecution.
“If evidence was given to me – and indeed to the Consulate General – that there was pressure being brought to bear on the judiciary, then I hope that those people who have that evidence will do so, because obviously we’ll be able to make that case more robustly to the Chinese authorities,” he said. “But, as far as I’m aware, there is no such evidence at the moment…”.
Field added that he had discussed Hong Kong’s autonomy with Chinese officials and continues to reassert the concept of “one country, two systems” as a foundation of the city’s success.
In June, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which gave rise to Hong Kong’s 1997 Handover, had become devoid of any practical significance.
“The suggestion that has been made that this was a historical document is one that we would utterly refute,” Field said. “We are committed to a faithful implementation of the Joint Declaration.”
Field said the UK would continue making twice-yearly reports on the situation in Hong Kong, dismissing Beijing’s claims that they amount to foreign interference.
Last June, one of the reports noted a “severe breach” in the 1984 treaty, following the disappearance of British citizen and bookseller Lee Bo.
Field declined to speculate when questioned by HKFP as to whether the UK would take any tangible action, beyond statements, should they note any future breaches of the treaty.
As part of his visit, Field met with a group of young Hongkongers for a roundtable discussion hosted by the British Council to hear their concerns about the city’s future. Separately, he met Chief Executive Carrie Lam, as well as a group of lawmakers on Friday.
During his tour of Asia, he is also set to visit South Korea and Singapore.