UK official stresses importance of upholding Sino-British Joint Declaration for Hong Kong
Mark Field, the British minister of state for Asia and the Pacific, says he sees growing concerns over Beijing’s role in Hong Kong affairs
A British official overseeing Asian affairs has said there is a growing tendency for concerns over Beijing’s role in Hong Kong affairs to “become much more cause célèbre”, and said London must reassert the importance of the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
Yet, Mark Field, the UK minister of state for Asia and the Pacific, also said the “one country, two systems” framework was in good shape, and declined to take a strong stance on the recent jailings of prominent political activists by a Hong Kong court.
Field also said he disagreed with former British governor Chris Patten’s assessments in June that the mysterious disappearances of five Hong Kong booksellers in 2015 showed that Beijing has broken its promises under the Joint Declaration, which enshrined Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy.
“I don’t agree with Lord Patten’s analysis on this, nor do I think it’s helpful for there to be, as he puts it, ‘squeals’ of concern about it,” he said.
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Field was in Hong Kong as part of his Asian tour, after visiting Beijing on Tuesday. The minister separately met the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, and seven Hong Kong lawmakers from both sides of the political divide on Thursday.
Last week, activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang were imprisoned for an illegal protest ahead of the Occupy protests in 2014. The trio were originally given community service orders or a suspended prison term, but the justice department applied for a review and succeeded in securing stiffer punishments.
The UK Foreign Office’s spokesman had said: “We hope the [court’s] decision on this case will not discourage legitimate protest in the future.”
Asked if the UK government was concerned about the jailings, Field said: “Now that this matter is under appeal, it would also be wrong for me to politicise it.”
The trio has expressed their intention to appeal.
“We ... feel that those freedoms [of expression and assembly] are protected under the terms of the Joint Declaration. Therefore we were concerned,” he said.
Field added that under British law, authorities were allowed to apply for a review of a lenient sentence, and he “takes on board” the Hong Kong Bar Association and Law Society’s stance that there was “no question of political interference involved” in the ruling.
In recent years, there have been growing concerns among some Hong Kong people about Beijing’s influence on the city’s political issues.
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Asked to comment on concerns over Beijing’s “encroachment into” the city’s affairs, Field said: “One is worried that there seems to be a greater tendency in recent years for this sort of concern ... to become much more cause célèbre, and that I think clearly we need to consistently reassert the importance of the Joint Declaration.”
In June, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang caused a row by describing the 1984 treaty as “a historical document that no longer has any realistic meaning”.
Field said he had “utterly refuted” that notion.
“We are signatories, we are guarantors of the Hong Kong exceptional and special arrangements that applies for ‘one country, two systems’,” he said, adding that the British foreign secretary’s six-monthly report to parliament on Hong Kong affairs should not be seen as an act of “interference”.
But Field added: “The concept of ‘one country, two systems’, entrenched [in] the Joint Declaration 20 years ago, is still in very good shape.”
In a statement, Lam’s office said the chief executive told Field that Hong Kong’s rule of law and the independence of the judiciary “are as robust as ever”. Lam also said she had pledged to give young people in Hong Kong greater opportunities to participate in public affairs.