Britain’s foreign secretary has said China can still “step back from the brink” to allow Hong Kong its own autonomy as he called for an independent inquiry into the city’s protests.
Dominic Raab expressed his “deep concern” for the ongoing unrest and China‘s attempt to enforce its national security law on the former British colony.
In the Foreign Office’s latest six-month report to parliament on Hong Kong, covering 1 July to 31 December last year, Mr Raab also called the detention and torture of British Consulate worker Simon Cheng in China last year “brutal and disgraceful”.
Mr Raab wrote: “The solution to this unrest and its underlying causes must come from Hong Kong, and cannot be imposed from mainland China.
“Britain says the way through the current situation in Hong Kong is clear: all sides must invest in dialogue and reconciliation, underpinned by a robust, independent inquiry.
“It is incumbent on the Hong Kong government to acknowledge not just the economic causes of the unrest, but also its people’s concerns about their freedoms and values.”
The special administrative region’s autonomy was guaranteed for 50 years from the handover in 1997 under the “one country, two systems” agreement signed in 1984 by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
The UK, along with the US, Australia and Canada, has criticised China for the new national security law, saying it would breach the Sino-British agreement and threaten its freedoms.
Last week, Mr Raab told Sky News the UK was prepared to sacrifice a free trade deal with China to protect the people of Hong Kong.
The city was rocked by months of pro-democracy protests last year over an unsuccessful attempt to introduce an extradition law which could mean sending suspects to China.
Following a lull during the coronavirus epidemic, protests have started up again after China suddenly introduced a resolution to enforce a national security law which would make secession, subversion “terrorism” or any foreign interference in Hong Kong illegal.
“There is still time for China to re-consider, to step back from the brink and respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and respect its own international obligations,” Mr Raab wrote in a foreword to the report, which he said addressed subsequent events after the period the report covered.
Last week, the Hong Kong government voted to make mocking China’s national anthem a crime – on the same day as thousands disobeyed police to hold the annual vigil for those who were killed in Tiananmen Square in 1980.
Boris Johnson has pledged to give Hong Kong’s 350,000 British National Overseas passport holders – and the 2.5 million who are eligible – UK visa rights if the national security law is given the green light.
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