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Theresa May

Patten and Ashdown call on UK PM Theresa May to speak up for Hong Kong during China trip

Former governor and fellow peer decry ‘increasing threats to the basic freedoms, human rights and autonomy’ in city

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 11:05am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 January, 2018, 11:49pm

The last British governor of Hong Kong Chris Patten on Monday urged his prime minister to speak up for the city during her first state visit to China, saying the former colony faced increasing threats to “basic freedoms, human rights and autonomy”.

In a letter sent to Theresa May, Patten and his fellow British peer Paddy Ashdown encouraged her to insist on “the continued validity of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the principles of ‘one country, two systems’” during her meetings with President Xi Jinping and other Chinese leaders.

“In the past five years Hong Kong has seen increasing threats to the basic freedoms, human rights and autonomy which the people were promised at the handover just over 20 years ago,” Patten and Ashdown wrote.

They said the UK should not shirk its responsibility to Hong Kong while building ties with China, which May will visit from January 31 to February 2.

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“We hope that ... you will be able to provide the people of Hong Kong with some assurance that our developing relationship with China, vital though it is, will not come at the cost of our obligation to them,” the letter read.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration is an agreement made between China and the UK in 1984 to enable Hong Kong’s handover to China in 1997. It set out the core principles of the one country, two systems concept, under which China governs Hong Kong, and guarantees the city a high degree of autonomy.

The letter from Patten and Ashdown raised three areas of concern in particular: the decision by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, to impose mainland laws in the Hong Kong terminal of a cross-border high-speed rail link; the denial of British human rights activist Benedict Rogers’ entry to the city last October; and comments made by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor earlier this month calling a Hong Kong Watch report compiled by Ashdown and Rogers “meddling by foreign organisations”.

The 10-page report in question said Hong Kong’s rule of law, autonomy and freedoms were being “eroded” by China. Lam said that position was “unfounded and unfair”.

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In a response to media enquiries over Patten and Ashdown’s comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said on Tuesday that since the city’s handover, the principles of one country, two systems as well as “Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong” and a high degree of autonomy had been effectively implemented.

“Hong Kong affairs belong to China’s internal affairs,” she added. “China firmly opposes the interference of any foreign government, institution and individual in the affairs of Hong Kong. This position cannot be clearer.”

Additional reporting by Danny Mok