The new UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has met family members of three detained or previously detained Chinese human rights lawyers, as well as another formerly detained human rights lawyer, during his trip to Beijing.

On Monday, he met with Chinese Premier Li Keqiang, Foreign Minister Wang Yi, and Director of the Office of the Foreign Affairs Commission Yang Jiechi.

On the same day, Hunt – accompanied by UK Ambassador to China Barbara Woodward – met with the four people who were victims of a wide-reaching crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists which began in July, 2015.

From left: Wang Yu, Xu Yan, Barbara Woodward, Jeremy Hunt, Li Wenzu, Wang Qiaoling. Photo: Handout.

Hunt met Li Wenzu, wife of detained lawyer Wang Quanzhang; Wang Qiaoling, wife of previously detained lawyer Li Heping; Xu Yan, wife of detained lawyer Yu Wensheng; and Wang Yu, one of the lawyers also arrested in the so-called 709 Crackdown.

“I explained the situation of Wang Quanzhang’s three-year disappearance and the latest developments in detail to the minister and the ambassador,” Li said in a tweet. “The minister expressed his sincere interest in our difficult experiences.”

Wang Quanzhang remains the only one of the lawyers who has not been tried or released after his 2015 arrest. Li Heping was force-fed medicine during his two-year detention, according to his wife. Meanwhile, Wang Yu said she was forced to confess to media outlets for the safety of her family.

Yu Wensheng represented Wang Quanzhang after the crackdown. Yu was charged with “inciting subversion of state power” in January, a week after he was detained, as he prepared to take his son to school in Beijing.

Yu’s wife Xu Yan told Hong Kong public broadcaster RTHK that they were honoured to have met with Hunt for around an hour on Tuesday afternoon. She thanked Hunt for his concern over Yu.

Jeremy Hunt and Wang Yi. Photo: Jeremy Hunt.

In May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel met Li Wenzu and Xu Yan during a trip to Beijing.

Earlier this month, Li – who had not heard from her husband for three years – finally received news that her husband was still alive.

Hong Kong freedoms

Hunt said he and Wang Yi had “extensive discussions” about the “One Country, Two Systems” principle and the current situation in Hong Kong, and had “quite frank discussions about the concerns that have been raised by a number of people.”

He said Hong Kong is part of China, but the UK signed the Joint Declaration and the country is committed to the “One Country, Two Systems” approach.

But Wang said in response that Hong Kong affairs are Chinese internal affairs and Beijing does not welcome or allow other countries to intervene. He added that the “One Country, Two Systems” principle will continue to be implemented.

It was Hunt’s first trip to China after he was appointed foreign secretary earlier this month.

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.