U.K. lawmakers on Oct. 24 debated the escalating tensions in Hong Kong, and whether to give British nationality to residents of the former British colony. Dozens of young Hong Kong supporters watched the debate from the public gallery.
Among those at the debate was the last governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten.
He said that, for a dozen or so years, the one country two systems worked well, but in the past few years there’s been a tightening of Beijing’s control over Hong Kong.
He described the introduction of the extradition bill as “extraordinarily foolish,” and urged protestors not to be violent, as that would play into Beijing’s hands.
The role of Hong Kong governor ceased to exist after 1997 when the U.K. handed Hong Kong over to China.
The handover came with a promise: Hong Kong would have democracy and semi-autonomy, including an independent judiciary, something not enjoyed in mainland China. Recently, though, there are concerns that Beijing is increasingly encroaching on the city’s freedom.
“In the past few years, both Hong Kong’s freedoms and trust have been undermined and eroded increasingly dramatically,” said David Alton, member of the U.K. House of Lords.
Initially sparked by a controversial extradition bill, which would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to Communist Party-controlled courts for trial, the protests in Hong Kong have morphed into a wider demand for democracy and freedom.
Millions of people have protested in Hong Kong since June, resulting in clashes between protestors and police, involving tear gas and pepper spray. Hong Kong police have arrested more than 2,000 people since the protests began, and hundreds have been injured.
Lord Alton, who proposed the debate, says the U.K. should follow in the footsteps of the United States. The U.S. House of Representatives recently passed four bills, three of which related directly to Hong Kong.
“What those laws do, if the autonomy in Hong Kong, the two systems in one country, go on being eroded, Hong Kong will lose its special economic status, there will be implications for some of the individuals,” Alton said. “Should the U.K. do the same, yes we should.”
He is calling for an international push to provide second citizenship, as an insura.nce policy, for all Hong Kong residents. This initiative garnered support from over 170 members of both Houses of Parliament last month.
While Thursday’s debate didn’t have a formal vote, the U.K. Human Rights Minister Tariq Ahmad was there to respond.
“The Government share[s] the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and indeed of all noble Lords, about the situation, in particular, the violent clashes between protestors and the police,” Lord Ahmad said.
Evidence of the brutal human rights violations in China, such as forced organ harvesting for prisoners of conscience, was brought up.
Hong Kong supporters watched the debate from the public gallery.
“I think the U.K. government should really push much more than now,” said Maggie, a student from Hong Kong who is doing a Masters degree in London. “I know they have a lot going on with Brexit, but because of the Sino-British joint declaration I think they are responsible for this.”
And in closing remarks, Lord Alton said the concerns of Hong Kongers will not be forgotten.
Controversial Extradition Bill Withdrawn
The Hong Kong government first proposed amendments to its extradition laws in February, which would allow the city’s top official, the chief executive, to sign off on extradition requests, including from mainland China, without approval from the Legislative Council of Hong Kong.
Amid fear that the city’s judicial autonomy would be eroded if the bill was passed, millions of Hongkongers took to the streets in June. Lam eventually announced the bill’s withdrawal in early September.
Protesters are now calling on the city government to answer to their other demands, including greater democracy such as universal suffrage, and the establishment of an independent inquiry to investigate instances of police violence in the past 20 weeks.
On Oct. 23, Hong Kong’s Security Secretary John Lee announced the formal withdrawal of the extradition bill during a session at the legislative council (LegCo). But for many, the city government’s decision came too late.
Civic Party lawmaker Jeremy Tam, writing on his Facebook page, stated that the bill’s withdrawal came four months too late.
Tam added that Hong Kong would be different today if Lam had responded to public opinion and withdrawn the bill in June.
Civil Human Rights Front, the main organizer behind many massive marches in the past months, wrote on its Facebook page that the bill could be withdrawn, but the damage to Hong Kong is irreversible.
Epoch Times reporter Frank Fang contributed to this report.