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  • Dec 20, 2014
  • Updated: 9:44am
NewsHong Kong

‘Irresponsible’ British PM Cameron slammed for not standing up for Hong Kong

Statement issued by UK and China makes no mention of Beijing's white paper, despite fears it threatens 1984 Joint Declaration and Basic Law

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 June, 2014, 2:36pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 June, 2014, 9:27am

British Prime Minister David Cameron has come under fire for skirting the heated debate over Hong Kong’s autonomy by prioritising Britain’s economic ties with China during Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to London this week.

A joint statement released by both governments on Tuesday mentioned Hong Kong only briefly, making no reference to a controversial Chinese government policy paper from last week that detailed Beijing’s understanding of the “one country, two systems” principle laid down in the Basic Law, the city’s constitutional document.

The statement’s only reference to Hong Kong read: “Both sides agreed it is both in China and the UK’s interests to promote the prosperity and stability of Hong Kong in accordance with the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and the Basic Law.”

The white paper released last week emphasised Beijing’s “comprehensive jurisdiction” over Hong Kong and said the city’s autonomy was subject to the central government’s authority.

That sparked concerns that the high degree of autonomy, guaranteed to Hong Kong in the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 and the Basic Law, was at risk.

Democratic heavyweight Martin Lee Chu-ming, who helped draft the Basic Law, described Cameron as “very irresponsible” for not speaking up for Hongkongers or the Joint Declaration.

“The central government has redefined the country’s policies towards Hong Kong [in the white paper], which are different from what were stated in the Joint Declaration and Basic Law,” Lee said.

“Before, [Beijing] stated that the central government was only responsible for Hong Kong’s military and diplomatic affairs … but now they say they enjoy 'comprehensive jurisdiction' [over Hong Kong].”

Lee urged the UK to continue its role maintaining the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, and not to give up that right in exchange for business with China.

“There were only two countries signing the Joint Declaration – China and UK,” he said, referring to the documents which set out the terms of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997.

”It is unacceptable for the UK not to speak up for Hongkongers,” Lee lamented. “This is very irresponsible and has disappointed the people in Hong Kong”.

While the statement made no mention of the white paper that the State Council released last week, it is unclear whether Cameron has raised the issue in his conversations with Premier Li so far.

For Steve Tsang, director of the China Policy Institute at Nottingham University, the wording reflects British sensitivity towards Chinese concerns over the former colonial power’s influence in the SAR.

“London is aware that Beijing sees a conspiracy behind any overt British ’interference’ in any aspect of development in Hong Kong, particularly if it is something disapproved of by Beijing,” he wrote in an email.

“This limits what the British government can say and do.”

The joint statement was released on the second day of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to the UK. In a visit focused on business cooperation, deals worth more than HK$230 billion have been signed according to the Chinese embassy in London.

And economic cooperation loomed large in Tuesday’s statement.

The reference to the former colony appeared below remarks on economic cooperation in nuclear and wind energy, railways and the issuing of yuan-dominated bonds in London.

Mandarin classes at British schools, the “the translation of each other’s contemporary litreary classics” as well as judicial cooperation and cultural exchange were also mentioned ahead of the one-time British colony handed back to Chinese rule 17 years ago.

The paragraph that referred to Hong Kong also reiterated Britain’s recognition of Chinese sovereignty over Tibet.

The white paper issued last week also argued that “it is necessary […] to repel the attempt made by a very small number of people who act in collusion with outside forces to interfere with the implementation of ‘one country, two systems’ in Hong Kong.”

A week earlier, Beijing’s top representative in Hong Kong, Song Zhe, called on the British Consul General to Hong Kong, Caroline Wilson, not to interfere in Hong Kong affairs.

Wilson had expressed concerns over electoral reform in a meeting with pan-democrat lawmakers.


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This article is now closed to comments

Although Britain isn't "just another nation" for Hong Kong, it shows clearly that we should not expect too much from the so called "international community" in cased China would massively interfere into Hong Kong. For sure almost every nation would value its economic benefits from a good relationship with China much higher than its standing in the case of Hong Kong. I am just being very realistic: Hong Kong is very alone with China.
johnfra, Camel,
johnfra is one who should check the facts, not Camel.
Hong Kong wealth and capital accumulation occurred in second half of 70s and 80s when Hong Kong had access to China's cheap labor. The large capital formation from manufacturing exports over almost 2 decades propelled fast growth that by late 80s, our standard of living exceeded the UK's.
At the beginning of 1990, our GDP was 25% that of China's. This year, our total output is only 2% of the mainland. Given the 7.5% and 3.4% growth differential, we will be lucky to be just a puny 1% of China's economy in 17 years.
If you want to stir up trouble against this economic juggernaut, we'll be lucky to even grow at 1%.
If our capital base becomes impaired, with housing values dropping 50%, the wide destruction of wealth will reduce our city to a ghost town.
With Hk's low skill levels, if the language skills of SCMP readers writing in these columns are an indication, do you think we had really earned our rights to be one of the richest cities in the world without China's help?
It's hard to debate with economics and math illiterates.
The battle for Hong Kong's identity and freedoms can be fought only by us Hongkongers. No foreign power has an appetite for a bust-up with the CCP's trillions.
Why do people from Hong Kong even dream about a PM of another nation standing up over China's domestic issues? I mean, how would the people of UK feel if Li went there and voiced his support for Scotland's independence to the UK prime minister?
I was born and educated in top-tier academic institutes both in HK and North America, spending over 10+ years overseas. I have worked in global Big-4 consultancy firm and prominent I-banks, and I can tell you most people I know at work (HKers) and my friends and my family all feel so much better after the Brits left and that HK is back to mother China. Hong Kong people had no dignity under the British rule as the Brits had always treated the Hongkongers like second class citizens, subordinated to them.
The colonial government then had skimmed away tons of hard-earned money from the HKers and redistributing majority of the wealth back to the Brits via awarding big-scale public and private projects to British contractors alike. Note that HKers had no say whatsoever on government spending back then, as the Brits controls the government and any public consultation from the general public, if any, was rigged.
Now you know, whoever wrote anything contrary to the above are not genuine HKers and probably represents MI6 using a fake Asian name to distort the truth from the reading audience.
Daniel Lee
Isn't it about time for some of those HK people to lose their colonial toading inferiority complex and make themselves into useful citizens of HK and China instead of whining at every turn. Really pathetic.
The British Empire is dead now. Hong Kong is as relevant to Britain as the price of Yam is in Papua New Guinea to China.
Unacceptable though Martin Lee may find it, it is nevertheless fact. Beijing never intended to have control over only the military and diplomatic aspects of Hong Kong. That's something the UK should have monitored and spoken up on long before now, because they are the only Western signatory to the agreement. Norway has already kowtowed to Beijing by having no connection with the Dalai Lama on this last visit, and they admitted the reason was to repair economic ties with Beijing. But that was Norway. This is London, and for the UK to kowtow as well means money means more to them than standing up for the people of Hong Kong. The battle is lost. If the UK chooses not to support universal suffrage in Hong Kong as a party to the 1984 agreement, who will? Beijing might as well annex the Hong Kong SAR into the mainland now. Mr Cameron, you screwed up!
For a very small number of HK people who are anti China, they hope that Britain still has some influence over Hong Kong, but in fact, the vast majority of Hong Kong people don't care about Britain.
I heard otherwise, by friends, colleagues and also people I am dealing with.
The worst what they say is, all should leave us alone, but the majority are saying that the Brits where no better. Most of the British treated us even worst. We were "lower than dogs" if not citizen 2nd class. You tried as a Chinese to get close to the compounds where the foreigners had lived. They would have sent their dogs after you.



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