Lord Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the UK Liberal Democrats, says Britain has a duty to Hong Kong.

The House of Lords member arrived in Hong Kong on Sunday night for a two-day fact-finding visit. He said that, although his visit to Hong Kong was long-planned, the city’s denial of entry of British conservative activist Benedict Rogers prompted him to visit sooner. Rogers has since founded the group Hong Kong Watch, of which Ashdown is a patron.

He said the Sino-British Joint Declaration is an enshrined international treaty: “It is up to all to make sure that they preserved that and protect it.”

Andrew Leung and Paddy Ashdown.
Andrew Leung and Paddy Ashdown.

“The British government has a duty here too. Britain sadly is obsessed with Brexit at the moment, but you know this is our engagement. I think it was John Major, the British prime minister, who said to the people of Hong Kong: ‘You’ll never walk alone’.”

“Chris Patten has said Britain risks selling her honour if, in order to get a decent trade deal we’re all desperate to get, Britain forgets her obligations in Hong Kong.”

He said the “One Country, Two Systems” model is valuable to Britain, China and the world, and it was crucial that Hong Kong keeps its culture of being proudly Chinese but also being part of a democratic culture: “We should act in a way that is far sighted to preserve that quality… Is it under threat at the moment? No, I don’t think it is. But I think we have to be very aware of what’s happening.”

Rule of Law

Ashdown said the centre of a democratic culture is the rule of law, which he said people have to keep an eye on: “I’ve always believed that is the primary gift which perhaps the British – whose legacy here I’ll have to say is not blameless – have left behind.”

statue of justice court
Photo: Court of Final Appeal.

He said senior international lawyers engaged in Hong Kong have assured him that the rule of law is valid in the city, but Hong Kong Watch will be constantly vigilant over whether the Department of Justice is fully independent.

He also said China is now claiming superpower status but he believes the country wishes to be a good world citizen who adheres to the law, and that it wants to be seen as doing so.

He described Hong Kong Watch as a referee that blows the whistle: “When we think the law has been broken, we think that’s important. It’s not something which anybody needs to be frightened of – we will act as a lobbying system on the government and we will act, I hope, as a bystander who wishes Hong Kong well.”

Filibuster issue

Ashdown met with LegCo President Andrew Leung on Monday and said they discussed various issues such as the joint checkpoint arrangement, the disqualification of lawmakers, the national security law and the democracy movement.

“We discussed what the president would call filibustering – I reminded the president that the use of time is the opposition’s only weapon in a democracy.”

Andrew Leung
Andrew Leung. File Photo: LegCo.

He did not make his stance on the disqualification of democratically-elected lawmakers clear, but said he had to check the details: “There is a habit of people from far away to descend on a complex situation like this and think they know the answer.”

He said he understood Chief Executive Carrie Lam was very busy and could not meet him. But he will meet activists including Joshua Wong, Nathan Law and Alex Chow: “I met them before, I wouldn’t come to Hong Kong without seeing them.”

Ashdown said he learned Mandarin in Hong Kong in the 1960s and has taken close interest in the city since then. As leader of the Liberal Democrats, he said he flew to Hong Kong and demonstrated in the streets during the Tiananmen square protests in 1989.

“I was the person who argued the case for Hong Kong passports,” he said. He added that he was not worried about being barred from Hong Kong, like Rogers.

Ashdown’s visit came as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said that the Sino-British Joint Declaration is “absolutely valid” in response to a parliamentary question on freedoms in Hong Kong.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.