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Lord Dubs: My Lords, does my noble friend hold out any hope that there will be a change of heart on the part of the authorities in Hong Kong or in Beijing? What has been the Chinese response to the many representations made by the Government?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Chinese Government have responded today in relation to the statements that have been made. I have referred to the statement put forward by the EU yesterday and the United States Government have also made a statement. The Chinese Foreign Ministry has said that the allegations made in these statements are "unfounded" and that Article 23 is an internal matter in which foreign countries have no right to interfere. That is the public statement being made by the Chinese Government. That is why I was so emphatic in saying to the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that this is not only a matter for public exchanges; there also have to be quiet exchanges between those who are able to talk frankly to each other. Of course we should say what we believe to be the case publicly but it is enormously important not to lose the value of quiet diplomacy.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that this objectionable law is likely to come into effect as early as 9th July? Does she see any prospect, in the short time remaining between now and then, of achieving changes in the sweeping provisions which are liable to affect the media, the churches and groups such as Falun Gong?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. This continues to be a matter for discussion in Hong Kong. Our representations and the representations of others have led to some changes in the original points put forward by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government. We now have a period of about eight days. I have told the House what the Chinese Government have said. Your
Lord Geddes: My Lords, I wish that the Minister's remarks had been used in the two, three or four years immediately before the hand-over. That is now history. The Minister mentioned several times representations being made in this respect to the government in Beijing. I am sure that the House welcomes that. Have representations also been made directly to Mr Tung Chi Hua, the chief executive of the Hong Kong SAR? If not, could they please be made?
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, yes. I had hoped that I had made that clear in my initial Answer, when I said that we had made frequent representations to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Regional Government about the matter. We shall of course continue to make sure that they are left in no doubt about our views on this issue.
Baroness Williams of Crosby: My Lords, given that there has been a strong statement from the White House, which the Minister has confirmed, that there has been a statement from the European Union, and also repeated representations from the British Government, will the Minister consider drawing to the attention of the Chinese Government the damaging effect on foreign direct investment that this is likely to have, if it is pursued in its present form? If Hong Kong, as the Minister indicated, does not have full recognition of its special status, there is likely to be concern among foreign investors about continuing to invest in that region.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I would add that there have also been statements made by Australia. This is a difficult issue and I appreciate that your Lordships are enormously concerned and wish to leave no stone unturned in the arguments that may be put forward. There are judgments to be made about the efficacy of what might be seen as a threat in relation to what otherwise might be seen as encouragement. I was specific in reading out what I understand is the reaction of the Chinese government.
We have to make some quite difficult judgments over the next few days about the most efficacious way to proceed. If I may say very gently to the noble Baroness, it is just possible that pointing out what might happen over foreign direct investmentwhich I would suggest is self-evidentmight be seen as more on the threatening side, rather than on the persuasive side, of the equation.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, as I understand the matter, it does have some powers of amendment, although they might not be the same types of powers enjoyed, not so much by your Lordships, but by another place. The matter is under consideration and the discussions should be completed by 8th July. As I understand it, there is some room for manoeuvre. I hope that we focus on the continued good will and persuasion of those who feel that there are some outstanding issues about the effect on the Joint Declaration, and the whole point about one country/two systems and the consistency of what is suggested in the legislation, even as it stands with that principle in the Joint Declaration.
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