James Cleverly, Minister of State for Europe and North America, responds to an Urgent Question on the arrests of Cardinal Zen, Margaret Ng, Hui Po-keung and Denise Ho in Hong Kong on 11 May.
I thank my right hon. Friend for raising this incredibly important issue. The Hong Kong authorities’ decision to target leading pro-democracy figures, including Cardinal Zen, Margaret Ng, Hui Po-keung and Denise Ho, under the national security law is unacceptable.
Freedom of expression and the right to peaceful protest, which are protected in both the joint declaration and the Basic Law, are fundamental to Hong Kong’s way of life. We continue to make clear to mainland China and to Hong Kong authorities our strong opposition to the national security law, which is being used to curtail freedom, punish dissent and shrink the space for opposition, free press and civil society.
In response to the imposition of the national security law, as well as wider recent developments in Hong Kong, the UK has taken three major policy actions: on 31 January 2021, we launched a bespoke immigration route for British nationals overseas and their dependants; we have suspended the UK-Hong Kong extradition treaty; and we have extended the arms embargo on China to cover Hong Kong.
China remains in an ongoing state of non-compliance with the joint declaration, which it willingly agreed to uphold. As a co-signatory to the joint declaration, and in the significant 25th year of our handover, we will continue to stand up for the people of Hong Kong. We will continue to call out the violation of their rights and freedoms and hold China to its international obligations. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary is in regular contact with her international counterparts on issues relating to Hong Kong, and we continue to work intensively within international institutions to call on China to live up to its international obligations and responsibilities.
As my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary stated in the latest six-monthly report, published on 31 March, the UK will continue to speak out when China breaches its legally binding agreements, and when it breaks its promises to the people of Hong Kong.
I am grateful to you, Mr Speaker, for granting the urgent question.
On 11 May—yesterday—Chinese authorities arrested three trustees of the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund, which helped pro-democracy protesters to pay their legal fees. Although those three figures, led by Cardinal Joseph Zen, have apparently been released on bail, the bail requirements are very onerous and their passports have been confiscated. This is a huge abuse of human rights. Cardinal Zen is, I believe, 96, and he has been a lifelong advocate of democratic causes in Hong Kong and mainland China. We should be looking up to this man, and considering the abuse that he faces. He has spoken out against China’s growing authoritarianism under President Xi Jinping, including a Beijing-imposed national security law, and the persecution of members of many religions, including Roman Catholics in China.
The problem we have is this. A representative of my Government comes to the Dispatch Box, legitimately, and condemns all these actions in China, yet we lag behind others in sanctioning individuals under the Magnitsky requirements. The following people have already been sanctioned by the United States, and are involved in this process: John Lee, elected as Hong Kong’s next chief executive; Carrie Lam, the previous head of the Hong Kong Government; Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah; Xia Baolong; Zhang Xiaoming; Luo Huining; Zheng Yanxiong; Chris Tang Ping-keung; and Stephen Lo Wai-chung, a former commissioner of the Hong Kong police force. Not one of those people has been sanctioned by the UK Government. It is time to step up and make our position very clear.
I would also say to my right hon. Friend, for whom I have a huge amount of respect, that the 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund was shut down last year, and was opened up for inspection for “collusion”. This needs to be investigated.
I understand that you wish me to finish my remarks, Mr Speaker, and I am about to do so. Let me simply say this: it is the important bit. There have been reports that the Government may well re-enact discussions about the Joint Economic Trade Commission, and even re-endorse the economic and financial dialogue which was previously suspended. I want an absolute undertaking from our Government that they will sanction those individuals, and that there is no way on earth that we will entertain the opening up of any trade or financial discussions with this abusive Government.
My right hon. Friend speaks with huge authority on this issue, and he knows that when he speaks on any issue but particularly this one, I personally take notice and Her Majesty’s Government always take notice. He will, I know, be frustrated by the sentence I am about to utter, but I think he will understand that, while we work closely with our international partners on sanctions of individuals, as our response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine demonstrates, we never discuss publicly any future sanctions designations that might be brought. Nevertheless, Her Majesty’s Government and I will take very seriously the points that he has made, and the list of individuals that he has read out. He was right to highlight the importance of not just words but actions in opposition to actions such as those taken by the Chinese Government. We consider Beijing to be in a state of ongoing non-compliance with the Sino-British joint declaration, and I think that that will be borne in mind when we speak, or think, about any other agreements that might be entered into with that Government.