The UK's relations with Hong Kong: 30 years after the Joint Declaration - Foreign Affairs Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

China's ban on the Committee's visit

1.  While we welcome the Minister of State's assurances that the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities are aware that the UK Government disapproves of their decision to deny us entry to Hong Kong, we remain profoundly disappointed with the FCO's response to this unprecedented act. Recent actions by the Chinese and Hong Kong governments toward UK MPs have been wholly contrary to the spirit of the Joint Declaration, and fuel concern about Hong Kong's direction of travel. The Chinese government's behaviour towards the UK on this issue also raises wider concerns about the state of UK-China relations and has naturally had an impact on how we have conducted this inquiry. (Paragraph 7)

British nationals (overseas)

2.  We recommend that the Government state, in its response to this report, whether its policy is to support the expansion of visa-free travel worldwide for BN(O) passport holders resident in Hong Kong. If this is the case, the Government should set out what progress has been made in achieving this goal since 2006. (Paragraph 20)

Economic and trade relations

3.  We welcome reports that economic ties between the UK and Hong Kong remain strong and that UK firms continue to operate in Hong Kong easily and successfully. The UK Government should ensure that its strategy on improving UK-Chinese economic and trade relations continues to recognise the special role of Hong Kong as a partner for the UK. The FCO should also continue to be active and vigilant in monitoring reports of political pressure being applied to UK companies in Hong Kong, and raise any resulting concerns with the Hong Kong government. (Paragraph 28)

The work of the British Council

4.  We consider that the British Council has an important role to play in maintaining strong social ties between the UK and Hong Kong, and we welcome its work in language teaching, educational exchange and creative engagement with Hong Kong's artistic and cultural life. (Paragraph 30)

The UK's ongoing obligations under the Joint Declaration

5.  The FCO has repeatedly said that the UK has both a moral responsibility and a legal right to monitor China's fulfilment of its obligations to Hong Kong under the Joint Declaration. We agree. The FCO should continue making this clear to the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities at every level. The Minister of State told us that President Xi will conduct a state visit to the UK in 2015. The Prime Minister should use that opportunity to emphasise both publicly and privately to President Xi that the UK is committed to this position, and takes seriously its monitoring of the implementation of the Joint Declaration. (Paragraph 34)

The FCO's six-monthly reports on Hong Kong

6.  We consider that the six-monthly reports offer comprehensive if somewhat bland narratives of events, but they fall some way short of indicating the UK's position on developments in Hong Kong. We recommend that the reports be restructured to include less ambiguous conclusions, supported by more in-depth analysis of the political, social and economic implications of the events they describe. We also recommend that the Foreign Secretary express more clearly the UK's views on developments during the relevant reporting period, in his foreword to each report. (Paragraph 42)

The Chinese State Council White Paper

7.  We judge that the White Paper did not breach the letter of the Joint Declaration, but neither was it wholly consistent with the spirit of the treaty. The alarm that the White Paper engendered should not be brushed aside. There is widespread concern in Hong Kong that Beijing is tightening its grip on Hong Kong's autonomy in ways both overt and subtle, and we consider that the White Paper constitutes further indication of that trend. This should have been more clearly acknowledged by the FCO in its statements on the White Paper and in the six-monthly reports. (Paragraph 49)

The SCNPC decision on 2017 Chief Executive elections

8.  We agree with the FCO that the specific details of constitutional reform are for the governments of China and Hong Kong to decide together with the people of Hong Kong, but the UK can and should take a position on the overall pace and degree of democratic reform. We consider that the FCO has stopped some way short of expressing a clear view. Compared with previous selection methods for the Chief Executive, allowing every eligible Hong Kong citizen to cast a vote is an important step forward. We acknowledge that the precise meaning of the term "universal suffrage" is a matter for interpretation, and Article 45 of the Basic Law clearly states that the nominating committee must play a role in selecting candidates for election to the position of Chief Executive. But the people of Hong Kong cannot have confidence in a nominating committee with such a limited and unrepresentative composition, especially when candidates must secure the support of over half its members. We do not consider that the terms of the 31 August SCNPC decision offer "genuine choice" in any meaningful sense of the phrase, nor do we consider the decision consistent with the principle that Hong Kong should enjoy a high degree of autonomy. If the FCO is content with the SCNPC decision, it should make its views plain and avoid misleading language. (Paragraph 57)

Student protests and Occupy Central

9.  The FCO and UK Government had to strike a careful tone in responding to the recent protest movement in Hong Kong, taking into account the potential unintended effects their statements might have had on a volatile situation. On the whole we consider the FCO's response to have been appropriate and well-balanced, and we especially welcome their support for the right of Hong Kong people to demonstrate peacefully. At the same time, we acknowledge that many of the demonstrators were disappointed by what they perceived as equivocal language and a lack of support from the UK. (Paragraph 63)

Prospects for electoral reform in 2017 and thereafter

10.  We were surprised that the Minister of State said the UK was bringing different sides of Hong Kong's constitutional debate together in the Consulate-General. If this is the case, in its response to this report the FCO should list the groups or individuals who attended these discussions and explain why it considers this to be an advisable role for the UK to play. We broadly agree with the Minister of State's view that even gradual progress toward more democratic electoral arrangements is preferable to the status quo. Should the current electoral proposals stand, we recommend that the FCO press the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing to lay out specific proposals and a timetable for further democratic reform after 2017 and 2020. (Paragraph 67)

Freedom of assembly

11.  Freedom of assembly is a fundamental right guaranteed in the Joint Declaration. Although we recognise that the Occupy campaign brought considerable disruption to Hong Kong, the largely peaceful and orderly character of the protests should be commended. We were concerned by reports of police using excessive force, particularly when clearing the protest sites. The FCO should encourage the Hong Kong authorities to investigate and prosecute incidents of alleged police brutality in accordance with the law, and should closely monitor and report on these investigations in the six-monthly reports. It is also important that those who exercised their right to peaceful protest are not subsequently punished or put under undue pressure by the police and authorities. We call on the FCO to be vigilant in monitoring the future treatment of the protest leaders, to raise any concerns that may arise with the Hong Kong government, and to include details of any conversations with the Hong Kong government on this issue in the six-monthly reports. (Paragraph 75)

Freedom of the press

12.  We recommend that the FCO continue to raise the issue of press freedom privately with the Hong Kong authorities and the Chinese government, making clear that the UK takes press freedom seriously as a right guaranteed by the Joint Declaration. We also recommend that the FCO express its concerns more robustly in the six-monthly reports and in public statements, to support journalists in Hong Kong who may face censorship, losing their jobs and even violent attacks for attempting to exercise their rights under the Basic Law, and to ensure a climate of impunity does not evolve. (Paragraph 82)

Perceptions of the erosion of Hong Kong's autonomy

13.  The belief that China is eroding Hong Kong's autonomy is strongly held by many people in Hong Kong, reflecting an intertwined combination of legal and political developments and questions of changing identity, language and culture. These complex issues are key to understanding the context of developments in Hong Kong, and the FCO's reporting should reflect these nuances of public opinion more accurately as part of its overall assessment of the functioning of "one country, two systems" in the six-monthly reports. (Paragraph 87)

Hong Kong's political and economic future

14.  The demand for greater democracy in Hong Kong is more than an abstract concern: it reflects the understandable desire of Hong Kong's people to have an accountable government that responds to their needs and interests. The status quo is not sustainable in the long term, and if the current constitutional stalemate continues it could soon threaten the open business climate and stability that underpins Hong Kong's enviable prosperity and growth. In our view, this tension can only be resolved by meaningful progress toward democracy, guided by a transparent process in line with the Basic Law, in which both the Hong Kong people and the Chinese government can have confidence. (Paragraph 89)

The UK Government's handling of UK-Hong Kong relations

15.  We are concerned that the FCO's lack of clarity in expressing its views on political and constitutional developments in Hong Kong may be damaging the UK's reputation there. We welcome, however, the FCO's emphasis on building a genuine partnership between the UK and China. A strong relationship should enable the UK and China to exchange views on Hong Kong's political and constitutional development openly and in a spirit of cooperation, even where they may disagree. A democratic, stable and prosperous Hong Kong is good for the people of Hong Kong SAR, good for China, and good for the UK. Britain has an enduring moral responsibility to see that Hong Kong achieves this goal and to ensure that the principles, legal obligations and spirit of the Joint Declaration remain as respected today as they were in 1984 and 1997. (Paragraph 92)

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 6 March 2015