The UK government has called for an end to violence at Hong Kong protests and for the police response to be proportionate.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office issued its latest six-monthly report on Thursday on major events between January 1 and June 30, 2019. The period covered in the report preceded large-scale demonstrations over a now-withdrawn extradition bill, Beijing’s encroachment, alongside calls for democratic reform and accountability for the police’s handling of the crisis.

October 20 mask ban china extradition protest
Photo: Studio Incendo.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab urged Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam to “look ahead to the path towards de-escalation and political resolution.”

“Protesters must end the violence. The police response must be proportionate in their handling of protesters and safeguard the right to peaceful protest,” he wrote in the foreword.

“And there must be a meaningful dialogue between all parties, with a credible political track to protect the rights and freedoms set out in Hong Kong’s Basic Law and the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which reflects and respects China’s avowed ‘One Country, Two Systems’.”

Raab said the nature of the protests has changed, citing cases of vandalism, police officers getting injured, and petrol bombs being thrown.

“While the overwhelming majority of protesters have been lawful and peaceful, the UK has always been clear that the violence of a hard-core minority cannot be condoned,” he said.

Dominic Raab
Dominic Raab. Photo: GovUK.

He also cited the use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition by the police as a cause for concern.

“In response, we have expressed serious concerns about the mistreatment of protesters, emphasising the right to peaceful and lawful protest and for people to stand up for their freedoms, as guaranteed under the Joint Declaration,” he said.

“Beijing has claimed that the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, which decided on Hong Kong’s Handover to China as well as its political system after 1997, was a ‘historic document’ that had ‘completed its mission’.”

But the UK report said that the Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty, registered with the United Nations, and continues to be in force.

“It is unacceptable to suggest that it is no longer valid. As a co-signatory, the UK is committed to monitoring its implementation closely, and we have made this clear to the Chinese government on many occasions,” it said.

Since 1997, the UK has produced reports at 6-monthly intervals on the implementation of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in Hong Kong.

October 1 china extradition march
Photo: Studio Incendo.

A spokesperson for Hong Kong’s government said, in response, that foreign governments should not interfere in any way in the internal affairs of the city.

They said the Hong Kong police have been exercising restraint and carrying out enforcement actions in strict accordance with the law when handling protests.

“The purpose of police’s enforcement actions is to protect the life and property of the general public, bring offenders to justice and restore public order as soon as possible,” they said.

The spokesman added the government has launched a diversified dialogue platform, and the Independent Police Complaints Council will prepare a report on the protests likely at the end of the year.

Tuen Mun September 21 protest rally tear gas police
Photo: Kaiser/United Social Press.

Hong Kong Watch, a UK-based NGO advocating for the protection of rights in Hong Kong, said the UK report failed to “adequately address police brutality by the Hong Kong Police Force,” and should have called for a judge-led, independent inquiry into allegations of misconduct.

“This is disappointing, firstly because this demand is eminently reasonable, widely supported and a necessary step if there is to be de-escalation; and secondly, given the fact that the former Foreign Secretary made this call,” it said.

“It is vital that the next six-monthly report takes a stronger line in condemning disproportionate and indiscriminate violence by the police.”

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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.