More than 30 UK parliamentarians have signed a joint letter asking the British foreign secretary to make Hong Kong’s the rule of law and basic freedoms a top priority in diplomatic relations with Hong Kong.

The letter – dated last Friday – was signed by 15 MPs and 16 Lords from the Liberal Democrats, the Labour Party, and the ruling Conservatives and the Democratic Unionist Party. It was led by Labour MP Catherine West, a former shadow foreign minister and the current deputy-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on China.

“We are asking you to act because the Sino-British Joint Declaration provides the UK with the legal obligation to monitor and promote Hong Kong’s rule of law and basic freedom until the end of the handover period in 2047,” the letter read.

Catherine West MP. Photo: Chris McAndrew/UK Parliament.

They called on the UK to raise the matter through “high-level diplomacy” – and publicly – by issuing a recommendation during the Universal Periodic Review process. Under the process, Hong Kong’s human rights situation is reviewed – as part of China – every five years.

They said Hong Kong’s human rights issues were neglected in China’s previous review, but the same must not be true this time with the recent crackdown on Hong Kong’s rule of law and freedoms.

“Given our obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, we urge you to take the opportunity to bring these developments into the spotlight at the United Nations,” the parliamentarians wrote in the letter.

In April, 45 Hong Kong civil society organisations submitted more than 100 suggestions to the United Nations relating to Hong Kong’s “deteriorating rule of law and human rights environment.”

Photo: Handout.

The parliamentarians said that the rule of law and freedoms are in the interests of international trade.

“Our long-standing trading relationship with Hong Kong has flourished because ‘one-country, two-systems’ provides much-needed transparency and fair play for businesses operating in the region, alongside essential protections of the fundamental freedoms which sets apart Hong Kong as ‘Asia’s World City’.”

Although they admitted that the Chinese top legislature had the power to interpret the Basic Law – Hong Kong’s de facto constitution – they said that “the independence of the judiciary may be compromised by Beijing’s increasingly frequent use of their interpretative powers.”

Beijing has issued five interpretations of the Basic Law since the 1997 Handover, with the most recent one linked to the disqualification of six pro-democracy lawmakers.

Edward Leung. Photo: Facebook/Edward Leung.

They also said that “[the] law is being used by the government of Hong Kong to punitively clamp down on the democracy movement in Hong Kong.”

In the letter, they raised concerns about the disqualification of lawmakers and candidates from running for Legislative Council elections, the sentencing of lawmakers and their staff for unlawful assembly inside the legislature, and the use of the Public Order Ordinance in the case of Edward Leung, who was sentenced to six years for rioting.

It was publicised before Boris Johnson resigned as British Foreign Secretary on Monday. Jeremy Hunt will succeed Johnson.

The letter came after an event on Hong Kong’s 21st Handover anniversary at the Parliament on July 3, where Hong Kong’s last colonial governor Chris Patten responded to his critics after calling for the 1997 Public Order Ordinance to be reformed.

”Full list of signatories to the letter:”

Catherine West MP

Mark Pawsey MP

Tom Brake MP

Paul Sweeney MP

Geraint Davies MP

Christine Jardine MP

Andrea Jenkyns MP

Sir David Amess MP

Rt Hon. David Jones MP

Gordon Marsden MP

Bob Neill MP

Sammy Wilson MP

Rosie Cooper MP

John Grogan MP

Angela Smith MP

Lord Ashdown of Norton-Sub-Hamdon

Lord Alton of Liverpool

Baroness Stern

Lord Bowness

Baroness Deech

Lord Mackenzie of Culkein

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon

Lord Rennard MBE

Rt Hon. Baroness Jean Corston

Lord Freyberg

Lord Navnit Dholakia OBE

Baroness Blackstone

Rt Hon. Lord Steel of Aikwood

Lord Stone of Blackheath

Baroness Lister of Burtersett

Lord Hylton

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.