The U.K. summoned China’s ambassador to protest the disqualification of pro-democracy legislators in Hong Kong, a move it said breaks the joint agreement on political and legal conditions in the former British colony.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Beijing’s new law barring any Hong Kong lawmakers who don’t recognize Chinese sovereignty undermines the territory’s “high degree of autonomy” protected in the Sino-British agreement.
“The U.K. will stand up for the people of Hong Kong, and call out violations of their rights and freedoms,” Raab said in emailed statement Thursday. “With our international partners, we will hold China to the obligations it freely assumed under international law.”
The U.K. said it’s the second time in six months — and the third since the 1997 handover — that it has accused China of breaking the terms of the treaty. The statements come against a backdrop of heightened political concerns in Britain about China’s behavior, ranging from measures to quell dissent in Hong Kong to alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang, at the same time as growing Chinese involvement in key British infrastructure projects.
Yet the move is unlikely to alter China’s stance on Hong Kong, especially if the U.K. takes no specific measures against the government. The Chinese Foreign Ministry’s office in the Asian financial hub on Friday warned foreign politicians to “keep hands off Hong Kong affairs,” and said the move by Beijing was the “right medicine” to stop opposition lawmakers from “hijacking” the legislature.
U.K. lawmakers from across the political spectrum again called on the government to impose sanctions on Chinese officials, including against Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, whose government banished four legislators following the Chinese resolution this week.
The resolution is the latest sign of China’s push to clamp down on dissent following anti-government protests last year. Beijing has since passed a series of measures asserting greater control over Hong Kong, first targeting democracy activists involved in street protests and now dissenters in democratic institutions set up under British colonial rule.
But Foreign Office minister Nigel Adams declined to commit to sanctions on individuals involved in the crackdown.
“We are constantly considering designations under our Magnitsky-style regime, but it would not be helpful to speculate on the names under consideration,” he told Parliament on Thursday. Ministers are working within the United Nations to hold China to account for its “transgressions,” he said.
Still, China-skeptics in Johnson’s party are having an impact on British policy toward Beijing. Earlier this year, they pressed the premier to ban Huawei Technologies Co. from the U.K.’s next-generation wireless networks, reversing an earlier decision to allow the company a role.
This week, the government published a draft National Security and Investment Bill that would give ministers sweeping powers to intervene in foreign takeovers of British assets deemed a threat to national security.
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