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

1  Introduction

Background to the inquiry

1. This inquiry was launched in July 2014 to mark the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, which set out arrangements for the transfer of sovereignty over Hong Kong from Britain to China. It was preceded by a one-off oral evidence session with Martin Lee QC and the Hon. Anson Chan, two of the most prominent leaders of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement, who met with us during their visit to London in July. Since the handover of sovereignty over Hong Kong in 1997, the Foreign Affairs Committee has maintained a strong interest in Hong Kong's development. Our predecessor Committees published reports including evidence, conclusions and recommendations on Hong Kong in 1998, 2000 and 2006.[1]

Terms of reference and evidence gathered

2. We launched our inquiry with broad terms of reference covering many aspects of UK-Hong Kong relations, specifically seeking evidence on:

·  The FCO's monitoring of the implementation of the Joint Declaration and Basic Law, including its six-monthly reports to Parliament;

·  The UK Government's relationship with the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) Government;

·  The UK's position on progress on political and constitutional reform in Hong Kong as it moves toward universal suffrage, taking note of the wider context of social and economic development in Hong Kong;

·  The UK's presence and its ongoing interests in Hong Kong, including the prospects for trade, business and cultural exchange; and

·  The work of the British Council in Hong Kong.

3. Over the course of the inquiry, the Committee held six public, formal evidence sessions in Westminster, as well as several informal meetings relevant to the inquiry. We also held three oral evidence sessions with interlocutors in Hong Kong via video-conference. In total, we took oral evidence from 20 people, in addition to the Minister of State and FCO officials. We also received more than 750 submissions of written evidence over the course of the inquiry, a large proportion of which were petitions sent by people in Hong Kong. We are grateful to all those in the UK and Hong Kong who took the time to provide written and oral evidence.

China's ban on the Committee's visit

4. We intended to visit Hong Kong in December 2014, to meet with senior officials in the Hong Kong SAR government, legislators, British business leaders, journalists, academics and representatives of civil society, amongst others. Immediately after we announced the launch of our inquiry, the Chinese Ambassador to the UK, the Chinese National People's Congress and the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office wrote to inform us that they considered the inquiry to constitute interference in China's internal affairs, urging us to halt the inquiry and to cancel our planned visit.[2] We replied that we considered the inquiry to be well within our remit to scrutinise the work of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office as part of the UK Government. We also said that we intended to continue with our inquiry and to carry out our visit to Hong Kong as scheduled. However, on 28 November, the Chinese Deputy Ambassador to the UK informed us that we would be stopped if we attempted to travel to Hong Kong, even though as UK nationals we did not need visas to enter the Special Administrative Region.

5. On 2 December the House of Commons held an Emergency Debate on China's ban on our visit. Those who took part were unanimous in expressing concern about the ban. In his response to the debate and in a subsequent letter, FCO Minister of State the Rt Hon Hugo Swire set out how the Government responded to the ban. In our view, this response did not go far enough. We therefore published a short Report on 10 December recommending that the FCO take further action, including summoning the Chinese Ambassador.[3]

6. The Minister told us that he had made clear to the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities at the highest levels that the UK Government believed China's decision to deny us entry to Hong Kong had been "regrettable, mistaken, counterproductive, wholly unjustified and ultimately not in the spirit of the Sino-British Joint Declaration."[4] The Foreign Secretary repeated this phrasing in his foreword to the six-monthly report on Hong Kong covering July to December 2014.[5] The report also concluded that it was "perfectly reasonable" for the Committee to visit Hong Kong in seeking to hold the UK Government to account, and reiterated that the Government had "repeatedly" made clear "both publicly and privately" that the prevention of our visit was "wholly unjustified, counter-productive and contrary to the spirit of the Joint Declaration.[6] The Minister of State told us, however, that officially summoning the Chinese Ambassador "would not have served any particular purpose."[7] We disagree, especially in light of reports that the Minister himself was denied meetings with government officials when he visited Hong Kong on 8 January 2015, a day after the Hong Kong government launched a second round of public consultation on constitutional reform.[8] The Minister said in response to a Parliamentary Question that Hong Kong government officials were unable to meet with him as they were "focused on the launch" of the consultation round.[9] News reports, however, said that UK diplomats were "fuming", quoting one source as saying that for a minister of this rank to be denied any meetings was "unheard of".[10] This is a cause for serious concern.

7. 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.

Main themes of the report

8. There were several significant political developments in Hong Kong in the latter half of 2014, including the publication of a Chinese State Council White Paper on "one country, two systems", the 31 August decision on electoral reform by the Standing Committee of the Chinese National People's Congress, and the major protest campaign against that decision which lasted from September to December. These events brought political and constitutional issues to the forefront of the inquiry. The vast majority of written submissions we received focused on these matters and the UK Government's response to recent developments in Hong Kong. This narrowing of the inquiry's focus was exacerbated by the Chinese government's decision to prevent our visit, after which Hong Kong government officials declined invitations to speak to us via video-conference about broader aspects of UK-Hong Kong bilateral relations. We consider, however, that the original terms of reference announced in July remain a useful framework through which to evaluate the FCO's handling of the major aspects of UK-Hong Kong relations.

9. Four main themes emerged from the evidence we received and thus form the main aspects of this report:

·  The strength of business and trade ties between the UK and Hong Kong;

·  The strengths and weaknesses of the FCO's monitoring of the Joint Declaration via its six-monthly reports on Hong Kong;

·  Recent political and constitutional developments relating to the potential introduction of universal suffrage for the 2017 Chief Executive election, and the FCO's response to those events;

·  The perceived erosion of Hong Kong's rights, freedoms and overall autonomy, and the FCO's reporting on these issues.


1   Foreign Affairs Committee, Third Report of Session 1997-98, Hong Kong, HC 710; Foreign Affairs Committee, Tenth Report of Session 1999-2000, China, HC 574-I; Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2005-06, East Asia, HC 860-I  Back

2   Letter to the Chairman from Liu Xiaoming, Ambassador of the People's Republic of China, 14 July 2014; Letter to the Chairman from Erica Ng, Director-General, Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office, London, 14 July 2014; Letter to the Committee from the Foreign Affairs Committee, the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China, 28 July 2014 Back

3   Foreign Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2014-15, Hong Kong: China's ban on the Committee's visit, HC 842  Back

4   Q315 Back

5   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, The Six-Monthly Report on Hong Kong: 1 July to 31 December 2014, February 2015, p 3 Back

6   Foreign and Commonwealth Office, The Six-Monthly Report on Hong Kong: 1 July to 31 December 2014, February 2015, p 24 Back

7   Q315 Back

8   Bryan Harris and Danny Lee, "British diplomats fuming over Hong Kong's snub of Hugo Swire", South China Morning Post, 25 January 2015 Back

9   HC Deb, 29 January 2015, Written Question no. 222047 Back

10   Tom Phillips, "Hong Kong snub leaves British diplomats 'fuming'", The Telegraph, 25 January 2015 Back

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Prepared 6 March 2015