By Alex Leung
Theresa May had her first official visit to China a few weeks ago. Before the visit, she pledged to raise recent political concerns in Hong Kong with Chinese president Xi JingPing. However, there was no significant effect on Hong Kong’s situation, with Chinese state-run media sarcastically praising the Prime Minister as she “sidestepped” the issue. In this context, it showed that a new round of political wrestling between the countries is rising, thus it may be a good time to look over the relationship between Britain, Hong Kong and China.
Once a British colony, Hong Kong has returned to her so-called motherland, China, becoming a special administrative region of the country since 1997. Some may have questioned why Hong Kong is a special administrative region, but not an ordinary city similar to Beijing and Shanghai. Under the Sino-British Jointed Declaration, an international treaty signed between Britain and China, Hong Kong enjoys a high degree of autonomy within the “One Country, Two Systems” model, stating that Hong Kong will still run as a capitalist economy, unique from China’s economic system. Furthermore, Hong Kong and China have different language, currency, election system, they even have separate national football team. So basically, Hong Kong and China are not the same.
However, in recent years it has been felt by some that China is violating her promises, gradually eroding Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy. One of the stellar examples was China’s National People’s Congress ‘re-explained’ Hong Kong’s Basic Law to disqualify four pro-democracy and two pro-independence lawmakers, claiming that they failed to sincerely take the oath of office. More recently, British conservative activist Benedict Rogers has been denied entry to Hong Kong without any reason given, and Chinese officials later claimed they have the sovereign right to determine the entry from anybody, ignoring the fact that Hong Kong holds the right to immigration affairs based on the Basic Law. All of these incidents indicate that China is trying to breach the legal relationship with Hong Kong and to no longer respect the city’s status as a special administrative region.
Lord Paddy Ashdown, former leader of the UK Liberal Democrats, had a two-day fact-finding visit some months ago. During his time in Hong Kong, he clearly stated that Britain has a duty to Hong Kong, “The British government has a duty here too. Britain sadly is obsessed with Brexit at the moment, but you know this is our engagement. I think it was John Major, the British prime minister, who said to the people of Hong Kong: ‘You’ll never walk alone’.”. Unfortunately, there were no further political actions taken over these years. The potential economic profits that trading with China can bring are indeed attractive, but there is no such thing as a free lunch. And the price is to follow the Chinese’s set of rules, under which controversal issues such as human rights and sovereignty are often restricted to express. Blindly chasing money and ignoring the ethical responsibility on Hong Kong is definitely not something that a leading country in the world should do.
In fact, millions of Hong Kong people actually hold a British passport. And together with those who hold a British National (Overseas) passport, it is a huge community that the British government should treat seriously. And as a shareholder of the joint declaration, Britain should always ensure the promises made in the international treaty are being fulfilled accordingly.
All of the things that Britain has left for Hong Kong, for instance a well-structured administrative government, an independent judiciary system, and some very important infrastructure, are all precious for Hong Kong. They are the cores that have made Hong Kong so successful in the past 20 years, but they may soon disappear in a very short space of time. Therefore, Britain should not retain its muffled stance, it should reaffirm its ethical and historical responsibility.