Britain on Wednesday criticised the arrests of more than 50 pro-democracy figures in Hong Kong, accusing China of deceiving citizens in the city about the true purpose of its national security law.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab called the detentions “a grievous attack on Hong Kong’s rights and freedoms” in Britain’s former colony, which were enshrined in a 1984 pact with China before it was returned to Beijing in 1997.

Dominic Raab Uk Foreign Minister
Photo: UKGov.

Police in Hong Kong arrested the 53 people on charges of “subversion” in early morning raids, in their largest operation since a draconian security law was imposed on the financial hub last year.

The charges were sparked by an attempt by opposition groups last year to win a majority in the city’s partially-elected legislature. 

However, Raab said the police operation involving about 1,000 officers demonstrated “that the Hong Kong and Chinese authorities deliberately misled the world about the true purpose” of the security law.

It is “being used to crush dissent and opposing political views”, he added.

Britain has spoken out repeatedly about the increasingly draconian clampdown in Hong Kong, angering Beijing by relaxing entry rules for Hong Kong holders of British National (Overseas) passports — a legacy of the final years of Britain’s 156-year rule over the territory.

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“The UK will not turn our backs on the people of Hong Kong and will continue to offer BNOs the right to live and work in the UK,” Raab said.

Patten hits out

Hong Kong’s last British governor Chris Patten also condemned the roundup and demanded the EU cancel what he said was its “miserable” investment pact recently agreed with China.

“Taking advantage of the political and pandemic distractions around the world, the Chinese Communist Party has further turned the screw in Hong Kong. It is now clearly to be regarded as illegal to support democracy,” Patten said in a statement.

“Liberal democracies around the world must continue to speak out against this brutal destruction of a free society, as well as about the ethnic genocide in Xinjiang,” he added.

Chris Patten
Chris Patten. Photo: Handout.

At the end of last month, the EU and China approved in principle a major investment pact that Brussels hopes will open up lucrative opportunities, despite concerns about Beijing’s rights record.

Patten, who is also a former EU commissioner, said the deal “spits in the face of human rights and shows a delusional view of the Chinese Communist Party’s trustworthiness”.

“It is surely inconceivable that the European Parliament can support the miserable draft deal that the European Commission wants to sign with Beijing,” he said.

Patten added the deal was “a massive strategic blunder” with President-elect Joe Biden set to take over the White House this month and, in the ex-governor’s view, confront China’s “bullying loutish behaviour.” 

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