London – Seven former British foreign ministers on Monday called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to push Group of Seven allies to set up an international monitoring group for Hong Kong in response to Beijing’s tightening control over the restless city.
China has sparked alarm among Western powers with plans to impose a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous financial hub.
Beijing says the law is needed to combat “terrorism” and “separatism” after the city was upended last year by seven months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
Opponents fear the law — which is bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature — will be used to stifle dissent, like on the authoritarian mainland, and will deal a fatal blow to the autonomy the former colony was promised ahead of its 1997 handover.
The U.K., U.S., Australia and Canada have issued a joint statement criticizing Beijing’s plan, while London has announced plans to extend visa rights to Hong Kongers eligible for British National (Overseas) passports.
But former foreign secretaries from both sides of Britain’s political divide have called on Johnson to take a more proactive role.
“The UK must be seen to be leading and coordinating the international response to this crisis,” the group said in a letter made public Monday.
The letter was signed by Malcolm Rifkind, Margaret Beckett, William Hague, Jeremy Hunt, David Miliband, David Owen and Jack Straw.
They called on Johnson to reach out to G7 allies “to formally institute an International Contact Group in consultation with international partners, to monitor the situation in Hong Kong and coordinate joint action.”
The working group could be modeled on a similar organization set up by the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Italy and Russia to respond to the Balkans crisis in the early 1990s, they suggested.
Beijing has lashed out at any foreign criticism of its handling of Hong Kong, arguing the city’s future is entirely an internal affair.
However in Monday’s letter, the former foreign ministers argued that Beijing is in “flagrant breach” of the 1984 agreement where Beijing guaranteed Hong Kong would keep its freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after the handover.
The G7 were planning to meet next month. But on Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump said he was delaying the scheduled summit.
There is no consensus among the G7 powers over how to respond to Beijing.
Trump has said he will strip Hong Kong of certain trade privileges and bar some Chinese students from U.S. universities in response to Beijing’s security law plans.
However the European Union has been more cautious, calling for dialogue with China while expressing “grave concern” about the proposed law.