A UK minister has said the country remains committed to strengthening its relationship with China, but not to the detriment of Hong Kong’s Handover agreement.

A new report on Hong Kong’s latest situation written by Lord Paddy Ashdown following his trip to Hong Kong last year was dismissed as “foreign meddling” by Chief Executive Carrie Lam.

At the House of Lords on Wednesday, Ashdown asked if the UK government rejects Lam’s view. He asked if the government would ensure that both the Hong Kong and Beijing authorities are duly notified that it is the responsibility of both sides to assess progress on the Sino-British Joint Declaration. The 1984 agreement gave rise to the colony’s 1997 Handover from the UK to China.

Ashdown Ahmad
Lord Ashdown; Lord Ahmad. Photo: Screenshot.

Lord Ahmad, minister of state for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said he agreed with Ashdown: “I assure noble Lords that the UK remains committed to strengthening its relationship with China, but not to the detriment of the joint declaration, which remains strong as ever.”

The Q&A session came after a hour-long debate at the House of Commons on democracy in Hong Kong a day earlier.

Ashdown also asked how the UK government assessed Hong Kong’s autonomy after changes to the house rules at the Legislative Council, and the denial of entry of Taiwanese scholars and Conservative Party human rights activist Benedict Rogers. Lord Collins also asked if the British prime minister should demand answers from China on the breaches of an international treaty.

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Ahmad cited the UK government’s latest six-monthly report in saying that – through generally functioning well – important areas of the “One Country, Two Systems” framework are coming under increasing pressure.

“[W]e continue to use every opportunity, both bilaterally and through international fora, to raise the important issue of the international agreement, to which both countries are signatories,” Ahmad said after listing actions that UK had taken.

Lord Patten, the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, asked Ahmad about British citizens who wish to visit Hong Kong with a bona fide passport: “Should they simply go, or should they enquire first of the Chinese embassy whether their presence in Hong Kong is to be tolerated?”

Lord Patten
Lord Patten. Photo: Screenshot.

Rogers had said he received warnings from the Chinese embassy in London – through a British MP acting as an intermediary – telling him not to come to the city.

Ahmad replied that immigration is “very much in the hands” of Hong Kong: “Our advice has not changed: British citizens should travel to Hong Kong, as they do now.”

Carrie Lam said last October that local immigration matters become a concern for Beijing, should they involve foreign affairs.

Joint checkpoint

Asked about the controversial joint checkpoint arrangement under which mainland officers will be exercising mainland laws at the new West Kowloon terminus, Ahmad said: “While the economic case that the Chinese have made for the high-speed rail link is clear, it is also important that the final arrangements are, and remain consistent with, the one country, two systems framework.”

Express Rail train
Express Rail train. Photo: In-Media.

“We understand that the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society of Hong Kong have also raised concerns about the legal basis for this proposal, and we continue to urge both the Chinese and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region to ensure that the [Sino-British] agreement, which stands with international recognition, continues to be abided by.”

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.