Universal suffrage in Hong Kong

UK lawmakers may visit Hong Kong as part of inquiry into Joint Declaration

Parliamentary inquiry into Sino-British Joint Declaration looking at pace of political and constitutional reform amid Beijing's asserting control

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 4:57am
UPDATED : Thursday, 24 July, 2014, 10:10am

UK lawmakers may visit Hong Kong as part of a parliamentary probe of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, 30 years after it was signed - a move welcomed by pan-democratic heavyweight Martin Lee Chu-ming.

The inquiry - led by the Foreign Affairs Committee, which is made up of MPs from Britain's three main political parties - will also review London's relations with its former colony.

The committee said in a statement that Britain, a co-signatory of the joint declaration, "retains an enduring commitment to Hong Kong following the transfer of sovereignty in 1997".

British parliamentary officials are encouraging members of the public, including Hongkongers, to submit written evidence.

Part of the probe will focus on political and constitutional reform as Hong Kong moves towards universal suffrage.

The lawmakers will review the implementation of the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution, and the joint declaration in the spirit of offering "a high degree of autonomy and basic rights and freedoms for the people of the Hong Kong".

"It's possible the committee might want to visit Hong Kong to see for itself," a senior parliamentary source said.

Welcoming the inquiry, Lee said: "I have always thought the British parliament is much more concerned than the government. This is certainly very positive and good news for Hong Kong."

The parliamentary source said the committee "was becoming aware of concerns" in recent months. Beijing released a white paper on June 10 emphasising its control over the city's affairs. This was viewed by critics as going against the promise of a high degree of autonomy in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.

And there has been an increasingly heated debate over the Occupy Central civil disobedience momvement, which is promising to bring the business district to a standstill if the Hong Kong government fails to come up with what it sees as a satisfactory reform proposal. Last week Britain's deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg, vowed to mobilise the international community if Beijing failed to uphold "one country, two systems" for Hong Kong. But Beijing officials insist that electoral reform has to "strictly follow" the Basic Law.

The timing of the inquiry comes just over a week since former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Lee presented their concerns to the committee.

Once the committee finishes receiving written evidence by mid-October, it plans to hear testimony. A final report will be released "early next year" before the British general election.

A British lawmakers' visit could be significant , said Professor Patrick Dunleavy of the London School of Economics.

He said the committee could "draw attention to the support for democratisation," and put pressure on the British Foreign Office "to stiffen up its language".

Dunleavy also said that representatives of the Hong Kong offices of the big four accountancy firms that recently issued newspaper adverts opposing Occupy Central could be questioned by the committee.