The last British governor of Hong Kong has called on the UK to lead the charge to defend the city’s freedoms at next month’s G7 summit amid a growing international backlash against China’s attempt to impose a controversial national security law on the Asian financial hub.
“The UK and its friends, starting with the G7, must take a firm stand against a regime that is an enemy of open societies everywhere,” wrote Chris Patten in the Financial Times.
“We owe it to the people of Hong Kong whose only crime is that they want to live with the freedoms they were promised.”
But taking a stand at the G7 in mid-June may be too late to oppose the contentious anti-sedition law, which Beijing has vowed to push through “without the slightest delay” in an effort to curb months-long pro-democracy protests that are now reviving again in the city.
China’s rubberstamp parliament, the National People’s Congress (NPC), is set to approve the law, which bans subversion, separatism and acts of foreign interference on Thursday. It will also give China’s Ministry of State Security the right to operate in Hong Kong.
Critics and legal observers have denounced the move as a blatant violation of the “one country, two systems” principle underpinning the “joint declaration” signed between the UK and China at the 1997 handover, which was a treaty lodged with the UN to ensure the city’s way of life until 2047.
Over the weekend some 217 politicians and senior policymakers from 23 countries signed a statement denouncing China’s actions and calling for governments to unite against a “flagrant breach” of the declaration.
Mr Patten said Beijing’s planned decree “in effect ripped up” the agreement and threatened to ruin the city’s future as an international financial hub that mediates about two-thirds of the direct investment in and out of China.
The United States has also warned that the law could lead to sanctions and the revocation of Hong Kong’s favourable trade status if the city loses its autonomy.
Robert O’Brien, the US national security adviser, told NBC that global financial services initially set up in the city because of the rule of law that protected free enterprise and a capitalist system. “It’s hard to see how Hong Kong could remain the Asian financial centre that it’s become if China takes over,” he said.
To all those in #HongKong currently fighting for the values you hold most dear, I want to say that #Taiwan has always given our utmost concern & support. Our government is closely watching developments & responding with caution to fully ensure our national security & interests. pic.twitter.com/t1mEZ2hssQ— 蔡英文 Tsai Ing-wen (@iingwen) May 25, 2020
It remains unclear how and when the legislation would be enacted in Hong Kong and to what extent it would be debated in the city’s parliament, the Legislative Council.
The department of justice on Monday urged people to refrain from “unwarranted speculations on the content of the legislation” before it was made public.
But the Hong Kong Bar Association questioned Beijing’s legal powers to impose such a law, and raised concerns that it could compromise the independence of the judiciary.
China’s plan, unveiled last week, fuelled pro-democracy protests over the weekend which ended in angry clashes with the riot police.
In nearby Taiwan, President Tsai Ing-wen said her government was “closely watching developments” and would offer the “necessary assistance” to the people of Hong Kong.
The number of Hong Kong immigrants to Taiwan jumped 150% to 2,383 in the first four months of 2020 from the same period last year.
“To all those in #HongKong currently fighting for the values you hold most dear, I want to say that #Taiwan has always given our utmost concern & support,” President Tsai tweeted.