The British Minister for Asia and Pacific has said that the Hong Kong government’s ban on the Hong Kong National Party was in breach of the spirit of “One Country, Two Systems.”
Speaking at the House of Commons on Tuesday, minister Mark Field was responding to one of four parliamentarians who had raised questions about the Hong Kong government’s ban of the pro-independence party alongside other developments pertaining to a perceived “erosion of democratic rights.”
Speaking to parliament on Tuesday, Labour MP Helen Goodman said that the ban “marks a disturbing new phase in the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms by China.”
“It is a clear breach of the spirit of the 1984 [Sino-British Joint] Declaration,” she said, adding that the UK government had done nothing.
In September, the Hong Kong National Party became the first political party since the Handover to have been officially banned in the interests of “national security.” Its convenor Andy Chan gave a high-profile talk at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club in August that was chaired by British journalist Victor Mallet. Mallet later had his visa renewal denied, effectively being barred from Hong Kong.
In September, Hong Kong Security chief John Lee ordered a prohibition on the party’s operation, citing section 8(2) of the Societies Ordinance, which refers to the need to safeguard of territorial integrity and the independence of the People’s Republic of China.
In response to Goodman’s comments, Mark Field said that the UK had done a lot. “We do not support Hong Kong independence, as we feel that would be a clear breach of ‘One Country, Two Systems,’” he said.
“Nevertheless, as she rightly says, the right to stand for election, and the right to free speech and indeed the freedom of association are absolutely enshrined in the Basic Law. We are also concerned that, if not the letter, then certainly the spirit of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ is being breached by this matter,” Field said.
“We have issued a statement and we will continue to put pressure through diplomatic means, and we will do so on an ongoing basis. I share many of her concerns that she points out, but she should not believe that there is not a lot of work going on, both from our Consular General there and from London on this matter.”
Conservative MP Steve Double asked what steps the UK government was taking to protect both the interests of the British living in Hong Kong alongside the rights of British National (Overseas) passport holders. There are around three million Hong Kong people who hold a BN(O) passport, of which around 150,000 are active users.
Field said the UK was very serious in its long-standing and ongoing duty to uphold the Joint Declaration.
“We have raised publicly our concerns about the decision, for example, not to renew the visa of Victor Mallet, for the Financial Times, and the subsequent denial of his re-entry into Hong Kong, as well as other developments,” he said. “These call into question Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.”
“We have also made it clear in private to the Chinese and Hong Kong Governments that it is vital that Hong Kong’s rights, freedoms and a high degree of autonomy, which are set out in the joint declaration, are fully respected.”
MP Catherine West raised the issue of Conservatives human rights activist Benedict Rogers’ visa denial, alongside that of journalist Victor Mallet’s.
Field responded by saying: “As I said in Hong Kong when I was there [last month], that incident on the 9th of November undermines Hong Kong’s freedom of speech and freedom of the press guaranteed under the Basic Law. This, in turn, risks undermining Hong Kong’s economic success for the longer term. We will continue to raise those concerns”.
Conservative Party Human Rights Commission Fiona Bruce MP brought up the trial of the Occupy Movement leaders, which is currently ongoing.
“Does the Minister share concerns about the trial that began on 19 November of nine leaders of the pro-democracy Hong Kong umbrella movement on such vague charges as ‘incitement to incite’ public nuisance, and about the implications of such charges for freedom of speech and the rule of law in Hong Kong?” she said. “Will Ministers raise such concerns with the Government there at the earliest opportunity?”
Mark Field responded by saying that the trials were “a matter for the Hong Kong courts,” adding that he had met with the deputy chief justice Roberto Ribeiro, and head of the Hong Kong Bar Association Philip Dykes, while on a visit to Hong Kong in November.
“I have every confidence in the continued independence of the Hong Kong judiciary, which remains in high international esteem. But I hope that the incidents to which she refers will not discourage either lawful protests or discourage the young from engaging in politics in Hong Kong.”