By Stewart McDonald
We stand at a crossroads in history, where the clarion call post-pandemic is to readdress our relations with China and reaffirm our commitment to Hong Kong.
The pandemic – like lightning in the dark of the night – illuminates the sinister workings of the Chinese Communist Party that have always existed but have been hidden from view. The UK must answer that call by standing with Hong Kong and all those who have the heel of state oppression on them.
It is time for the UK government to act. China has continuously demonstrated its intention to destroy Hong Kong’s autonomy and disregard both international law and its obligations under the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration that guarantees its freedoms. We cannot let this pass us idly by. We must share the courage of the protesters by standing up to China’s disregard for liberty and freedom.
The Hong Kong protest movement began with a bill that would allow Hongkongers to be extradited to China where the state enjoys a 99 per cent conviction rate. Since then, hundreds of thousands of Hongkongers have fought for the rights that we in the West take for granted.
That draconian bill was eventually withdrawn, but other similarly devastating laws have since been put in place to erode and undermine the freedoms and autonomy that defines Hong Kong.
To name but a few, China has recently decided to impose a national security law on Hong Kong, bypassing its legislature, which will criminalise any act of secession, subversion, terrorism and its broad scope could see people punished for criticising Beijing – as they are in mainland China.
A national anthem bill has also recently been passed, criminalising “insulting” the Chinese national anthem. This too will be imposed on pro-democracy campaigners and is another clear suffocation of fundamental freedoms.
These laws are an atrocious attack on human rights and the agreement between China and the UK, known as the Sino-British Joint Declaration. Hongkongers are faced with an uncertain future, one where any dissent can be punished with harsh financial and judicial penalties or even “re-education,” and Beijing can set up its own security and intelligence operations in Hong Kong.
Even in the face of such adversity, and amidst a global pandemic, protesters continue to march with the same, if not more, courage and energy as they did 12 months ago.
I call on the UK government to match the courage of the protesters and not kowtow to China’s bullying. We must call out the flagrant breaches of the Joint Declaration that have already occurred.
Although I welcome the British government’s announcements to expand the rights of British National Overseas passport holders, the UK must go further.
Beijing’s heavy hand will continue to create a climate of fear and a visceral sense of hopelessness unless we stand up. Hong Kong, the only enclave of freedom in China, is being eclipsed by tear gas, rubber bullets, live rounds, police brutality and torture; but still Hongkongers march on.
Stewart McDonald is a Scottish National Party (SNP) Member of Parliament for Glasgow South, SNP Spokesperson for Defence and is a member of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee.