Britain unlikely to put Hong Kong's interests first in reform row

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 19 July, 2014, 4:04am
UPDATED : Saturday, 19 July, 2014, 4:20am

Hong Kong has not been the focus of international attention until recently, when debates over universal suffrage and "one country, two systems" have put us back on the radar screen. This is partly attributed to the recent visits by ex-chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Democratic Party founding chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming to the United States and Britain. While the city's profile has been raised, whether this helps is another matter.

Addressing the British Parliament's foreign affairs committee hearing in London early this week, the pro-democracy figures were challenged by individual members for more evidence on how Beijing's white paper on the city's autonomy amounts to a policy change. The white paper, according to a British former diplomat who writes for the influential Chatham House policy institute, has been seized upon by those who wish to go beyond the Basic Law to advance universal suffrage. If the response is anything to go by, the pair do not appear to have swayed British opinion.

Unlike "one country, two systems", which is enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration, universal suffrage comes from the Basic Law. That's why Britain has rightly held that it's a matter for the governments of Hong Kong, mainland China and the people to decide in line with the Basic Law.

That Chan and Lee have braved a barrage of criticism to speak up for Hong Kong overseas underlines the growing unease in some quarters with the current political situation. They believe that the international community, in particular Britain, has a duty to defend our rights and freedoms under the Joint Declaration. True, the former sovereign power has a duty to ensure the city's well-being under Chinese rule, but the pursuit of stronger trade ties with China means it is unlikely to put a former colony's interests above its own. Even when the deputy prime minister renewed the commitment of standing up for Hong Kong in the event of the declaration being breached, questions remain as to what Britain can do.