Chris Patten, the colonial era ex-governor of Hong Kong, has reminded Britain that it is the country’s duty to safeguard the democratic freedoms of the city. He asked that Britain strongly oppose the extradition bill introduced by the administration of Hong Kong.
Hong Kong at risk
“Governments around the world — particularly Britain — should make our views clear about what is happening… Carrie Lam and her government should postpone the continuing passage of the legislation and have further talks with representatives of the community: lawyers, business people and representatives of civil society… As the former sovereign power, Britain has a debt of honour to Hong Kong. I hope that does not sound too old-fashioned a concept these days. For China, what is at stake is whether in future the rest of the world will be able to trust it to keep its word. If it breaks its commitment to Hong Kong, where else can it be trusted?” he writes in The Guardian.
Patten says that things in Hong Kong were relatively okay up until the 2014 pro-democracy protests. The scale of the protests ended up scaring Beijing as it made them worried that the city might want to separate. The leaders of the protest are seen as a threat even today and the city administration pursues them with vicious zeal. China has even abducted certain individuals it saw as a threat and taken them back to the mainland. If Beijing were to be given more powers over the city, it would inevitably spell doom for the freedom of citizens in Hong Kong. Patten believes that the passage of the extradition bill would push the city into continued unrest and damage its business prospects.
Joshua Wong, the 22-year old poster boy of democracy in Hong Kong and a prominent leader of the 2014 protests, feels that the UK is so distracted by Brexit that it has failed to live up to its pledge of protecting the city’s freedoms. “What we ask for is freedom and free elections. Under the Sino-British joint declaration, the UK government should take a more progressive and active role — not to keep its distance towards activists and Hong Kong citizens… [The UK should] strongly condemn how the Hong Kong government used rubber bullets to shoot towards peaceful activists,” he said to The Telegraph.
Despite the unrest in Hong Kong, Britain recently signed deals worth US$630 million with China during the Chinese Vice Premier’s visit to London. Some believed that the UK might raise the issue of the extradition bill with China, derailing the trade talks. However, nothing of this sort happened as Britain seemed to have put its business interests above the fate of Hongkongers.
“Whitehall is so concerned about how the two events will affect each other. The foreign office didn’t want to understate the relevance of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, while the Exchequer wanted to make sure the deals would be signed,” an anonymous source said to South China Morning Post.
Both nations launched the London-Shanghai Stock Connect project, which will allow firms listed in the UK to sell their shares in China. Chinese companies listed in Shanghai will be able to raise funds from the British stock market. With Brexit looming, China will become a very important trade partner for the United Kingdom. As such, London is less likely to engage in any statements or activities that might stress their business relationship with Beijing.