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Hong Kong Basic Law

British peer dismisses Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s criticism of NGO report as ‘overreaction’

Hong Kong Watch co-founder Paddy Ashdown says it was ‘absolutely within terms’ of Sino-British Joint Declaration for him to speak out

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 9:07am
UPDATED : Thursday, 18 January, 2018, 10:24pm

The British peer who published a damning report about the former colony last week has dismissed as an overreaction the Hong Kong leader’s claim that he had interfered in Chinese affairs.

Paddy Ashdown, a co-founder of the London-based Hong Kong Watch group, insisted on Wednesday that it was “absolutely within the terms” of the Sino-British Joint Declaration for him to speak out.

The former Liberal Democrats leader, who is lobbying the UK government to consider giving British National (Overseas) passport holders citizenship in the long run “if things go really badly”, also called on eligible Hongkongers to claim their BNO passports.

Speaking to the South China Morning Post in the House of Lords on Wednesday, Ashdown said: “I understand the pressures that the administration in Hong Kong is under, I understand that.

“But British parliamentarians have a right to identify when the British government isn’t doing what it said it would, and when the Beijing government isn’t doing it either.”

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Ashdown was responding to Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who on Tuesday said the report amounted to an interference in China’s and Hong Kong’s affairs.

Her assertion that Hong Kong matters were China’s business only was “manifestly not true”, Ashdown said.

“This is Britain acting absolutely within the terms of the Joint Declaration, which is a treaty,” he said. “And this has been scrupulously and carefully done.”

“I am sure Carrie Lam or those who represent Hong Kong are big enough to be able to look at an assessment and analysis in a rational and objective way,” he added.

The report from Ashdown, who visited the city last year, suggested that a series of events had raised concerns about the city’s rule of law. These included a constitutionally contentious joint checkpoint plan that would grant mainland officers almost full jurisdiction over part of the West Kowloon terminus of the cross-border rail link due to open later this year.

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Calling the 10-page report “totally unfounded and unfair”, Lam lambasted it and said it had attacked Hong Kong’s rule of law and accused China of eroding the city’s freedoms.

Speaking to dozens of audience members in parliament and from the public as he introduced the report, Ashdown said Lam’s remarks were “unhelpful” and an “overreaction”, adding: “Perhaps the kind of overreaction [that] would only serve to give the report more publicity.”

“I am not … saying that the rule of law has been undermined,” Ashdown said. “I have not said anything more than ‘keep a close eye on this’.”

He added that judges in Hong Kong had “maintained strength” in upholding an independent judiciary.

Hong Kong Watch’s main founder is Benedict Rogers, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party’s human rights commission.

Like Rogers, who was last year denied entry to Hong Kong, Ashdown said the British government would have to consider giving Hong Kong holders of the British National (Overseas) passport greater rights – even the right of abode – “if things go really badly”.

“I recommend those who are entitled to BNO to make sure that they claim it.”

Stuart Lau is reporting from London