The Death of Hong Kong’s Freedoms

TIME: 8th February 2017, 13:00-14:00

VENUE: Committee Room 4, House of Commons


Joshua Wong
Secretary-General, Demosito

Angela Gui
Campaigner, Daughter of detained Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai

Benedict Rogers
Deputy Chairman, Conservative Party Human Rights Commission

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I would like to welcome you all to the Henry Jackson Society, for a discussion on the situation between China and Hong Kong at the moment. We have a stellar cast of speakers here, so I won’t detain you for very long. These are all people who are right at the heart of the current news cycle. We have Joshua Wong, who is a Hong Kong student activist, who serves as Secretary-General of the political party Demosito. And Angela Gui, who is a UK-based, Sweden born graduate student – I will say a bit more as we move along. As well as, Benedict Rodgers.

I should explain to you a little bit about myself, I’m a Liberal Democrat peer of the House of Lords and I led for the Liberal Democrats for five years on foreign affairs. My own relationship with Hong Kong goes back to, believe it or not, 1976. So, I’ve been in-and-out of Hong Kong for a very long time and I’ve seen some dramatic changes there. Given your interest in Hong Kong you’ll know about the principle of one country-two systems and that this principle guaranteed some basic freedoms for Hong Kong. This included a free press, freedom of expression and judicial autonomy. This was hugely significant. There is some concern that these freedoms are being eroded. I’ve asked several questions in the House of Lords about the abduction of the Hong Kong booksellers which was the first indication of the kidnappings that were taking place on the behest of the Chinese state in Hong Kong. They appeared some weeks later on television with doctored statements, of course. But basically, this is an attempt by the People’s Republic of China to impose its will on Hong Kong, in my view. However, you will hear from the real experts today. This is a question I keep asking and I hope you will all touch on this in your response – I keep asking the United Kingdom government why it is so silent as a guarantor of Hong Kong’s basic freedoms and I wonder whether we will hear what you think the United Kingdom’s position might be.

But don’t let me take any more of your time. Would you, Joshua Wong, like to start? Joshua Wong is internationally-known for his prominent role during the Education Movement and the Umbrella Movement. His major influence in Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Movement has resulted in his inclusion in Time Magazine’s “Most Influential Teens of 2014” and recognition by Fortune as one of the world’s “Fifty Greatest Leaders in 2015”. He came in at 10th place, so I think that we’re really delighted to have someone with your credentials in this room with us. Joshua Wong, please kick off.

Joshua Wong: Thank you for the invitation. I think that this is the first public event for me in London. I would hope to give a brief sharing about my personal involvement in the democracy movement in Hong Kong. I will also talk about my prediction or personal opinion on the future of Hong Kong. I was born a year before the Handover, in 1996. I remember in primary school, the teachers just taught me that Hong Kong had secured one country-two systems to ensure a high degree of autonomy. They said that Hong Kong people would rule Hong Kong and that we could preserve and keep the freedom of speech, press and that we could eventually reach universal suffrage. That is, every person in Hong Kong would get the right to vote in an election. This is what I learnt in primary school. In high school, I started to be interested in politics. I got involved in the social movement, especially in 2012, the Hong Kong government introduced “brainwashing” into education to force every student in education to show their loyalty to the Beijing government. Later on, with the demonstration rally, we saw 100,000 people occupy the street. Finally, they managed to force the Beijing government to put aside the brainwashing national school curriculum for primary, secondary and high school. So, the story continues, and what we hope is to get back the right for us to vote in an election. In Hong Kong we have Executive elections, but only 1,200 pro-Beijing or pro-China elite can get the chance to vote. So, how come the future of Hong Kong, or the leaders of Hong Kong, is just chosen by 1,200 people? It is totally unreasonable. That is why, what we hope for is the right to vote in the election. This resulted in the Umbrella Movement in 2014.

The story moved on and what we realised is, especially for the young generation – apart from only organising street demonstrations and youth activism – it is necessary for us to fight for the long-term battle. That is why I founded a political party last year, to try and uphold democracy and self-determination. Later on, in last year’s election (unfortunately I still am not yet old enough to run in the election, I am still 20), another Umbrella Movement student leader ran in the election and won a seat in the Legislature. They are the youngest legislator in Hong Kong’s history. They are 23-years old and also still in university.

So that is my personal experience in Hong Kong. This year is the 20th anniversary of the Hong Kong Handover. Hong Kong can have an approximation of freedom and autonomy because of the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984. From the young generation’s perspective, one country-two systems has turned into one country-1.8 system and then one country-1.5 systems in recent years. Examples of this include the bookseller incident, that Angelo will explain later, and how I have been detained at Bangkok airport last November – just because of an order of the Chinese government to the Thailand government when I was invited to talk at a university. The police and immigration department sent me to a detainment cell for 12 hours where I could not contact a lawyer, my government or even my parents. I was even afraid that I would be the next person to be kidnapped from Thailand to China as these things had only happened two years ago.

What I hope today is to elaborate more about what is going on in Hong Kong – apart from the Hong Kong bookseller incident, or how I have been blacklisted in Mainland China, Singapore, Thailand and Malaysia. I would say that the reason for all of this towards Hong Kong is the disqualification of the legislature. Four legislators are democratically-elected to represent people in the council since last September. They represent the voice of democracy, freedom and human rights. Unfortunately, the Hong Kong government just follows the orders of China and override judicial independence. What they tried to do, is to appeal in the court to kick these four legislators out from their office. And these four of democratically-elected legislators had been elected fairly to represent the people. The Beijing government and Hong Kong government just tried to remove them from their seats and in the worst case they may go bankrupt due to losing in the court case. On 1 March they need to pay the legal fee of the government’s side and the government hired very expensive and experienced lawyers. This will be a huge burden for us. What I believe is according to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the Chinese government promised to let the Hong Kong people have the right to vote in an election. Now I am 20-years old and it is the Hong Kong 20th anniversary, what I hope is to urge the international community to keep their eyes on Hong Kong. In China, or under the threat of China, Hong Kong is the final hope under the rule of the Beijing government to reach human rights, freedom and democracy. What I hope, is just through my personal experience of my six year long journey in the Social Movement and also the recent situation in Hong Kong, especially the disqualification of legislators and the bookseller kidnapping incident. I hope to let more people know that, while Beijing claim it will bring prosperity and stability under one country-two systems, the fact is that it exists in name-only and has eroded rapidly in the development of the recent years. In my journey, I hope there will be a debate or development in parliament to let more people to know that on the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s Handover, it is the time to finally reveal the implementation of one country-two systems in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong being a place under the rule of Beijing still has the final hope to reach democracy through the process of democratisation. It is not easy for us to fight for democracy. Especially because people around the world may prioritise their business interests above human rights and democratisation in Hong Kong. But what I hope is to use my six-year journey and the recent developments in Hong Kong and also the passion of the people in Hong Kong to fight for democracy and to let more people know that we are under the rule of the Communist Party of China. Sometimes we feel downhearted and depressed because we face a lot of limitation and restriction but we will keep on fighting until the day we get back democracy. That is why I’m here to visit London and Parliament. And especially, I hope that through your government and parliament, we can get the international community to care and maintain the concern about Hong Kong. What we focus on is democracy in Hong Kong and also to handle the future of Hong Kong after the expiry date of the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 2047. That is why I’m here and thank you for this opportunity today.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Thank you, next we have Angela Gui who is a UK-based, Swedish-born graduate student and daughter of the detained Hong Kong publisher Gui Minhai. Since her father’s abduction from Thailand in October of 2015, she has been campaigning for his release by raising awareness of the situation. In April she testified before a congressional hearing, entitled “the Long Arm of Beijing”. I think that is pretty evident these days. And has been advocating for her father across the West. So, Angela, do you want to tell us a little bit more about that particular event?

Angela: I’d just like to begin by thanking you all for coming today. I would like to thank the Henry Jackson Society and my friend Ben Rodgers. It gives me hope to remember that there are people like you out there who care and will continue to challenge China’s unlawful actions. My name’s Angela Gui and as some of you may already know, my father, Gui Minhai, was abducted by Chinese agents in October 2015 for his work as a publisher and a freedom of speech activist. My father’s publishing house, Mighty Current, which was based in Hong Kong had been publishing books since 2012 on Mainland Chinese politics and as a result of that they were banned on the Chinese Mainland due to being “politically-sensitive”. My father was taken from his vacation home in Thailand after returning home from buying groceries on the morning of October 17th 2015. Despite holding only Swedish citizenship my father is still held by Chinese authorities. Today he has been in detention for 478 days. We have been told that he was involved in a traffic crime in 2003 in which a woman was supposed to have died and that my father willingly turned himself in for this crime. Most of this I have learned from watching a televised forced confession. Which struck me as a strange throwback to the criticism meetings that were carried out during the Cultural Revolution. There was a second televised confession that was aired shortly after the first one. This involved the issue of my father supposedly having sent banned books across the border. But there have been no such charges and no indication of how long my father will be held for. I think this shows a blatant disregard for the principle of innocent until proven guilty. It has been over a year and a half since these forced confessions were aired but the Chinese authorities have yet to produce evidence of their allegations.

The fact that my father’s forced disappearance and detention is emblematic of a worrying trend of China taking greater freedoms to enforce its law outside its borders has recently been reiterated by the disappearance and suspected abduction of Canadian citizen, Xiao Jianhua, he disappeared recently from a Hong Kong hotel My father’s and Xiao’s cases are in no way unique. Lee Bo, a colleague of my fathers, who was a British citizen, was kidnapped in Hong Kong in the 1970s. He has since returned but he is under very strict surveillance with limited freedom. Since then the crackdown on human rights lawyers and activists has cost many Chinese people in and outside of China their freedom. What I think is significant about my father’s, Lee’s and more recently Xiao’s cases is that not only do they demonstrate China’s disrespect for international and even domestic Chinese law, but they also signify that there is some sort of ethnically informed notion of Chinese citizenship, which takes privilege over internationally recognised formal citizenship. I think this can only be read as some sort of imperial sentiment, which is very worrying. Under the system of law enforcement it simply does not matter whether you are a citizen or not, as long as one is ethnically Chinese one can be at risk of being detained, arrested, or kidnapped. I suspect I had my own minor encounter with this when I was in Frankfurt last year to speak at an event. I was harassed by two Mandarin speaking men who photographed me and then jumped into a van with tinted windows and drove off.

Xiao later resurfaced in Mainland China a while after his disappearance, telling his friends that he was ok. The few messages that I received from my father since his abduction have also said that he was ok. Yet everything else, over a year and a half on, suggests otherwise. I therefore don’t think there is any reason to believe that Xiao is ok under the current context of politically motivated disappearances which are threatening to become eerily regular.

I’ve been here and in other places a few times now, encouraging action against China’s breaches of the Joint Declaration and its arbitrary detention of my father. But I think the question that we ought to ask ourselves now in light of extraterritorial abductions having proven to be a continuing trend is not whether we should act, but how. How can we reverse this trend that threatens not only the freedoms of those in Hong Kong, but also those of people in many other countries across the world? How do we ensure that British, Canadian, Swedish and other citizens will not have to worry about sudden abductions by the Chinese government? I trust that a lot of people in this room are actually more qualified to answer those questions than I am. But thank you all for listening to me, for coming here today and being willing to think about these very difficult but so important questions. Thank you.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Thank you, Angela, for that really passionate but dignified elaboration on what happened to your father. Can I just ask one question before we go to Benedict? Have you actually met while you’ve been here? Have you actually met anyone from the FCO? From the China team of the FCO?

Angela: I’ve made multiple attempts, but they haven’t worked out very well.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: They have declined your attempts?

Angela: Well, they’ve said that they haven’t had time. I mean, the last time I asked them was over six months ago. I should probably try again in light of what Joshua’s told us about the anniversary.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Indeed, thank you.

So our final speaker is Benedict Rodgers. He is the Deputy-Chairman of the Conservative Party’s Human Rights Commission and is a prolific writer. He is the author of one particular book “The Darkest Moment: The Crackdown on Human Rights in China 2013-2016”, which includes a chapter on Hong Kong. He is a human rights activist and a writer, specialising in East Asia. So, China, Burma, Indonesia and North Korea. I say North Korea because I hope you don’t travel there. I would worry a great deal if you had! And you lived in Hong Kong as a journalist from 1997-2002. Ben, we’re delighted to hear from you.

Benedict: Well, thank you so much. And, can I say first of all what a great privilege it is to follow on from Joshua and Angela and can I thank both of them for their courage in everything that they do. Thank you for your words of introduction. I do wear two hats. I work full time for a human rights organisation that is across all parties working with people in parliament. But I am speaking today in my capacity as Deputy-Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, which basically is a body within one particular party. But it is existing to speak for the values that we all share across all parties of universal human rights and democracy. I did live for five years in Hong Kong, actually the first five years after the Handover. I realise to my horror that Joshua was one-year old when I moved to Hong Kong. I still feel young, and I am young, but… So, I was there for the first five years of Chinese sovereignty and my observation of what’s happening now compared to then is that I did see some early warning signs in those first five years of erosion. I worked as a journalist on a newspaper during those years. I certainly saw some creeping erosion but nothing like what we’re seeing today and if anyone had predicted that we would be seeing people from Hong Kong being abducted and all the other things that you’ve heard about from Joshua and from Angela, I would not have predicted them.

So, I’d like to just say a few words about the report the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission published last June. We launched it here in Parliament with the former Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten. With Angela, and also with Anastacia Lin, a Chinese-born Canadian actress and activist. And Anastacia had also given evidence to our enquiry before the report. I’ll speak specifically about the Hong Kong chapter of that report. Of course, the report covers the human rights situation in the rest of China as well. Probably one of the first things that I should say is that many people would argue that compared to what’s happening in Mainland China the situation in Hong Kong is not so serious. We just came from a meeting with someone very prominent who I won’t name who said, compared to the Mainland, if he had looked at Hong Kong twenty years ago during the Handover and looked at where it is today, he would be quite pleased. And I was horrified when I heard him say that, because of course it’s true that if Joshua were to do the political activities that he’s doing in Hong Kong in the Mainland instead, he would not last a day, but nevertheless the erosion of basic freedoms in Hong Kong that is happening now, is a very worrying warning sign of what could then follow. And this is also a litmus test of what is happening in the Mainland because if these things are happening in Hong Kong, how much worse is it in the Mainland? We can spoke about those issues, if you’d like, later.

For the enquiry that we undertook, we had two three-hour hearings here in Parliament and many written submissions. Specifically on Hong Kong we had written submissions from the founder of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, Martin Lee. The former Chief-Secretary in the Hong Kong government Anson Chan. We had a submission from Joshua and from an academic called Professor Victoria Tin-Bor Hui, who is at the University of Notre Dame. I just want to read you a couple of extracts from the Hong Kong section of our report, which really reinforced what Joshua and Angela have said. One country-two systems, the model established for the government of Hong Kong under Chinese sovereignty is being “progressively undermined”, according to Hong Kong’s former Chief-Secretary, Anson Chan and the founder of the Democratic Party, Martin Lee in their submission to our enquiry. “Precious rights and freedoms guaranteed under one country-two systems, such as freedom of the press, publication and academic thought, are being chipped away, while our local government seems to turn a blind eye more bent on pleasing the central authorities than standing up for Hong Kong and its core values”. A new film, “Ten Years”, depicts Hong Kong’s future based on recent trends and “paints a grim picture of Hong Kong ten years into the future” increasingly under the central government’s influence and control. The Hong Kong Government has shown itself completely powerless to uphold the fundamental rights guaranteed to Hong Kong residents under the basic law. Professor Victoria Tin-Bor Hui goes on to say that Hong Kong’s young people who have grown up in the one country-two systems are convinced that Hong Kong is dying. To paraphrase the film Ten Years, “Is it already too late to save Hong Kong? Or is it not too late to give it urgent life support?” “Most pillars of freedom”, she says, “have been made increasingly hollowed”.

I think, besides the issues that Joshua and Angela have outlined, there were really three dramatic warnings of that erosion. First, was China’s abandonment of its promise for universal suffrage, which of course sparked the Umbrella Movement. Second, was the crackdown on the Umbrella Movement. Of course, third was the abduction of Angela’s father and the booksellers. Martin Lee again has described the Umbrella Movement as “A last stand in defence of Hong Kong’s core values. The values that have long set us apart from China: rule of law; press freedom; good governance; judicial independence; and protection for basic human rights. Beijing’s heavy-handed response made it clearer than ever that our future as a free society is at stake”. In the rest of the report there are various warnings, particularly of the erosion of the judiciary. A very senior retired Hong Kong judge, Judge Kemal Bokhary, concluded in a speech last year that his warning in 2012 of a storm of unprecedented ferocity facing the judiciary has now come about. Noting that his “fears have been realised, much as I wish they were not”. There are, he confirmed, very serious problems and grave challenges.

Press freedom is another area where we are seeing this erosion. Reporters Without Borders, in 2002 Hong Kong was 18th in the list for press freedom and in 2015 it is 70th. Academic freedom is another example which we could explore in the Q&A, but particularly in terms of the curriculum and interference in appointments to universities.

Let me draw to a close, just with a few words on our view as a Commission on what the British Government should be doing. We feel very much that the UK is not living up to its responsibilities under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. We agree totally with Lord Patten and, incidentally, you may have seen that Newsnight had an excellent item on Hong Kong featuring Joshua, Anson Chan and Lord Patten. I think Lord Patten’s phrase was that “The UK is in danger of selling its honour for the purposes of trade and compromising its responsibilities to Hong Kong”. But he said in other places that the UK has a right and a moral obligation to continue to check on whether China is keeping its side of the bargain in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. He went on to say, “when China asserts that what is happening in Hong Kong is nothing to do with us, we should make it absolutely clear, publically and privately, that this is not the case. It is amazing that when they say this sort of thing, the British Foreign Office doesn’t make a fuss because the Joint Declaration provides obligations on China to us for 50 years. It is the Joint Declaration, not the Chinese Declaration”. So, we believe that the UK should be speaking out publically much more, particularly when there are EU citizens, like Angela’s father, abducted and when there are other erosions that directly affect our interests and responsibilities.

I will leave you just with some final words. Firstly, from Martin Lee again. He said in his submission to us, “In order for us to attain the rights that Beijing has promised, the rest of the world has to stand with Hong Kong. Hong Kongers deserve more vigorous backing from both Washington and London, which pledged to stand by us before the Handover when Beijing made the promises that it is now so blatantly breaking. Both Washington and London, in their failure to come out strongly in favour of the peaceful democracy protestors have effectively sided with Beijing in a disgraceful display of power politics”. I wrote a piece in the Huffington Post last summer, which is headlined “Hong Kong is in urgent need of life support and the United Kingdom has a responsibility to act”. You can either read that article, which is a digest of the more detailed report that I’ve just been referring to, or you can find the full report on our website. I leave you with a final challenge, I just started reading this excellent book by Jason Ng called “Umbrellas in Bloom” and I asked Joshua yesterday, because Joshua wrote the foreword to it, I asked him if he would inscribe it. I didn’t know what Joshua was going to write. But he wrote very simply a challenge that is very fitting to us all. He wrote, “Keep on, and fight for democracy”. Thank you.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Thank you very much. Is there anyone from the British Foreign Office here in the room? No? OK.

I’ll just come to Q&A. I’m going to start off with my first question to Benedict and that is, have you had any conversations with the Foreign Office?

Benedict: I have had a few, although not, I have to admit, not specifically on Hong Kong. I’ve had conversations on China overall. Joshua is actually meeting with the Foreign Office tomorrow. And I certainly make an offer to Angela that I would be very willing to help in trying to persuade them to meet. But, even if we do meet them, I’m not altogether sure how fruitful it will be. But it’s certainly important to try.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Yes, thank you. Let’s open the floor up for questions. I would prefer to take two or three, if I can?

[33:55 Japanese Freelance…]: My question is about Donald Trump. So, Donald Trump sends a mixed message. He doubts the One China policy. And his administration talks a lot about the importance of America’s freedom of navigation in the South China Sea but the abolition of TPP is said to weaken America’s economic influence in Asia. What kind of effect do you think Donald Trump’s policies will have on Hong Kong’s freedom?

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Did everyone hear that? The question is about Donald Trump on the one hand, and how he has quite a strong position when it comes to the South China Sea. And on the other hand cancelling the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Angela, would you like to answer that?

Angela: I don’t know. I don’t feel like I’m the most-qualified person to answer this question. I certainly have my opinions. I mean, I’m not a great fan of Trump. I don’t personally think that he is going to put any pressure on China in any helpful way.

Joshua: Being a human rights activist, of course there’s a lot of issues like economic rights and environmental justice or other issues that I have a different opinion to Trump on. However, I still appreciate his phone call with the Taiwan President, Tsai Ing-wen. I appreciate his stance on the One China policy. It may give us some more hope for change in the future. But, if you ask what my expectation is, I would place more hope in the Hong Kong human rights and democracy acts that would be introduced in Congress in Capitol Hill in D.C. US have had foreign policy towards Hong Kong since 1992, this was called the Hong Kong Policy Act. However, since 1992 there has been no change implemented following this Act. In recent years, Senator Marco Rubio and members of Congress have tried to renew the US foreign policy towards Hong Kong and they spoke about how the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in US is intended to show the strong stand to support the Democracy Movement and to preserve the judicial independence and rule of law. Implementing the policy would have a positive impact on Hong Kong, especially in this critical year. While China, of course, will use all of its propaganda to create an interpretation of the Hong Kong situation. But, if the international community, no matter whether this is in the US or UK can have this debate, it will allow more people to find out the truth and what the reality in Hong Kong is. So, I would say that there is too much uncertainty for the policy of Trump towards China or Hong Kong. But what I hope is how he handled the call with Taiwan’s President will be a good start to how he is going to handle US policy towards China and Hong Kong in the future.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Can I just ask you a point of information? When’s this Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act going to go through Congress?

Joshua Wong: In the next few months hopefully. Before the anniversary of the Handover. However, I’m not sure.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: OK, so we need to keep an eye out for that.

Benedict: I think, Joshua’s said everything that I would have said. I’m not a fan of President Trump and I certainly share the concerns that many of us would have. But I have to say that I would just echo Joshua’s point that it’s very rare to find any world leader that’s prepared to stand up to China – particularly over the issue of Taiwan. The fact that he placed that phone call, whatever his motivations are – he may have a different agenda from us, but if it produces the results that we want to see then I welcome that at least.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I should just say that we haven’t talked about the EU either as yet. But just to give you a little illustration, the President of Taiwan is a Liberal. And I’m a Vice-President of something called Liberal International which is the worldwide network of Liberal Parties. We’re having our Congress in this tiny principality of Andorra, which is between France and Spain. We’re having a meeting there and we wanted to invite a Taiwanese to come and accept a tribute from us, a Prize of Freedom, and we cannot get any European Union country that will allow the Chinese to land at their airport. We might have to get a helicopter to bring them to Andorra. The Taiwanese cannot enter the EU, such is the fear of China in international relations. That to even admit the existence of a Taiwanese, is not permissible on EU soil.

Gentleman in audience: My mum’s Taiwanese, but also has a British passport.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: There you go, the passport would help.

Any other questions?

Ian [Bryan… 40:36]: Thank you for speaking. It was very interesting. The other important event this year is the Party Congress in Beijing. Can you tell me how this is already affecting the narrative in Beijing? Or how it might affect Beijing’s attitude towards Hong Kong in the future?

Joshua: I would say that there is some internal conflict in the Communist Party of China but according to my observation over the past few months President Xi Jinping will maintain his current policy towards Hong Kong. Since he became the President a few years ago he has continued on this path towards reversing human rights. The 1st of July this year is the first time that President Xi Jinping will come to visit Hong Kong. I think the interpretation and the narrative of China towards Hong Kong will not change and still ignore the promise of universal suffrage according to the Joint Declaration.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: I will now take more than one question.

[41:59 Lady in the audience]: I was wondering if you would be able to tell us about Thailand in particular is playing a role in human rights abuse in Hong Kong?

Gentleman in the audience: So, in six months, the British Government will issue a periodic report on Hong Kong. Is there anything in particular that you would expect or like to see in this report when it is released?

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Right, Angela, why don’t you comment on Thailand and the human rights situation in China?

Angela: I think Thailand has played quite a big role, actually, in aiding China’s law enforcement overseas. I mean, as Joshua mentioned in his speech, he has been detained arbitrarily because China did not want him to enter Thailand and to give a presentation at a university there. Before that, my dad, even though the Chinese authorities refused to acknowledge this, was very very likely kidnapped from Thailand. There is CCTV evidence that points towards this. I can elaborate on this if anybody wants to know. However, other than that, around the time that my father was kidnapped, there was also a forced repatriation of five Chinese people who had been granted UN refugee status. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think anybody knows what happened to them after that, which is very worrying. I would certainly like to see more confrontation happening from countries like the UK and the US and other Western nations towards Thailand, asking questions to them about what their role has been in cases like my father’s and how they plan to deal with this breach of international law.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Would you like to pick up the question on the periodic reports on Hong Kong, Joshua?

Joshua: One point that I would like to add about Thailand is that I was detained there in a cell and Gui Minhai was kidnapped from Thailand to China. While I was in the detainment cell at Bangkok Airport, I even had the idea that I would face the same thing as Gui Minhai, in that I would be kidnapped from the Airport to Mainland China. I’m lucky that this didn’t happen. This proves though that the effect of Hong Kong is not just in China or Hong Kong but is affecting the whole of South East Asia.

According to your question, the six-month report from the British Government is not enough. Of course it will be good for the UK as a matter of parliament still monitoring the situation in Hong Kong of one country-two systems. However, apart from giving this general report to reveal their analysis of the political status or the internal democratisation process in Hong Kong. I will give an example, Alex Chow, one of the Umbrella student leaders a few years ago, he successfully applied for a place to study in the London School of Economics for a masters degree. When he tried to get the student visa from the British Government he faced a lot of barriers and limitation and as a result could not attend the first week of the school semester. The limitations were a result of Alex being arrested by police in Hong Kong and facing a trial. As a result, he has a criminal record. Of course, for the immigration department of the British Government, it is not easy for them to allow a student visa for someone with a criminal record. But according to what I mentioned, the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the US. In this Policy Act, it mentioned who would not get a visa. It mentioned Hong Kong people will not get a visa if they have been arrested and get a criminal record. But, if they were involved in the Umbrella Movement or other peaceful protests, they will not be restricted for their involvement in the Democracy Movement. So, I would say that in the US Congress, if they were able to introduce a Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act and let those who have been given criminal records strictly due to fighting for democracy still be in with a chance of getting a US visa, it is possible for the UK to do likewise. I think this would be a practical thing to include in the Report. So, I would say that in Hong Kong, of course I do not hold hope for independence but I absolutely wish for self-determination. But instead of having that long-term goal, I was thinking that in the short-term it would be easier to get more people to keep their eyes on Hong Kong and the one country-two systems situation.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: That very brief remark to me about dual nationals and people having British nationality. My answer is that if you look at the British national who is detained in Iran at the moment, a woman who had nothing to do with all of the accusations that they are putting to her, she’s a dual national British-Iranian. The British have completely washed their hands of her. So, I think there is an inherent danger in being a dual national in terms of being in the physical space of the other country. In diplomacy this makes for quite a complex situation because if you are actually in the physical space of the country, Hong Kong is nevertheless China, and if they have Chinese nationality as well as British nationality, it is very hard for the British Government to intervene, as it is for the Canadians. Angela mentioned people who have diverse nationalities, but to come up against China is a little bit difficult.

Benedict, did you want to add anything to what has been said or shall I take other questions.

Benedict: I could just very briefly add, I think we can do no better than to quote Lord Patten on the six-month reports. He has described the British Government’s position overall as “restrained in its comments”, which I think is a wonderfully-understated and diplomatic way of saying something far stronger. He has described the six-monthly reports as “fairly neutral and rather anodyne”. I think that sums it up.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Right, I’ll take three final questions?

Enoch Liu (native of Hong Kong and the Chair of Conservative Future at Keele University): As a member of the Conservative Party, I have had a feeling during the years that I have been involved in party politics within the Conservative Party. My feeling is that Hong Kong used to have a lot of friends in the UK. But at the moment, you will see, that the only UK politician that really has concern for Hong Kong’s future, is Lord Patten, and he is pretty much retired at this stage. We don’t really see any MPs or even anybody who works in politics saying anything about this. People are in danger of falling into the trap of not wanting to upset China over Hong Kong. So my concern is what we can do, because if the governing party is not willing to take a stand, then how can we motivate our human rights activities or other stakeholders across the UK to have any concern on Hong Kong?

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: It is a real dilemma.

[52:41 Greg Sargeant working at Parliament]: Very similar question, the FCO’s more interested in retaining good relations with Beijing. What sort of outlets are there available here in the UK for British people to engage with, to help promote human rights and democracy in Hong Kong?

Caroline (working for an MP): I think 2014 and the Umbrella Movement marked a huge step change in youth activism in Hong Kong. And obviously the recent elections last year to have a member of your party elected to the Hong Kong legislature was amazing. Back about a year ago, at the last Chinese New Year, you saw the “fishball” riot in Mongkok and that was really quite shocking. Do you think that we’re going to start seeing more of these violent actions from frustrated youths, and how much of the blame do you lay with the Hong Kong Government versus the Chinese Government?

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Let’s take the last question briefly, Joshua.

Joshua: As I mentioned, I support fighting for democracy. Although what you mentioned about the “fishball” revolution at the last Chinese New Year, I would say that these people cannot get the majority of Hong Kong people’s support and even the kinds of people that are upholding violence are just feeling the strains of fighting for democracy. I would say that people feel depressed and downhearted at the behaviour of China and they might see no hope. And after the Umbrella Movement it does seem like the system hasn’t seemed to change. I always still remind myself, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. I am still optimistic for the future because what we recognise is that we are facing the largest communist regime in the world. I would not expect that we could achieve democracy within the next two or three years. So, if it’s a long-term battle let us come out and fight for democracy.

Regarding what people would say about which government would play a larger role in the future of Hong Kong, the Beijing or Hong Kong government? I would say that when we have the election for the Chief-Executive of Hong Kong and it will be maybe a competition between the Chief-Secretary and the Financial-Secretary. I would say in the democratisation process, a lot depends on who exactly is the Chief-Executive. And it also depends on who is the President of China. As long as it is Xi Jinping who is in charge of China, it is going to be a long-term fight for us.

Benedict: I think that there is a myth out there and it is a myth that is driving our foreign policy and that is the idea that in order to trade with China we have to kowtow to China. During the time of Xi Jinping’s state visit to the UK, there was an American businessman who’s lived in Shanghai for many years. And he was on the Today programme saying that the way we were kowtowing to President Xi Jinping during that visit was so counterproductive and his words were and they stuck in my mind, “If you act like a panting puppy, China will think they’ve got you on a leash”. In my view, the example of Angela Merkel is the example of how we should be doing things. Germany has an excellent trading relationship with China. I think they are the largest trading partner. And yet, Angela Merkel has made many visits to China, and on every visit she has made speeches that are incredibly strong on values of human rights, the rule of law and democracy. She has met, where possible, with dissidents and that’s the kind of approach we should be taking. I think, actually, of course China don’t like it when we speak about these things, but they probably respect us more if we stand up for our values. And so, in answer to my Conservative colleague, I would say please have a look at the Conservative Human Rights Commission’s report. Please, be in touch with me if you’d like to be involved with us. The chair of our Commission is Fiona Bruce MP and she is raising these issues. There are one or two other Conservatives doing likewise, but we need more.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: Can I say one other thing? You need to get more people like Angela to come and talk to young people about this because this situation isn’t covered very much in our media.

Can I come to the final question and that was how do we get more of an awareness within policy circles? I’ll tell you a small story. We have had one peer of Chinese origin in the House of Lords, who died some seven or eight years ago. Until you get ethnic-Chinese members elected to the House of Commons and appointed to the House of Lords you’re going to struggle. This is because I had to kind of take on the mantel when he passed away. But, I was leading for the Lib Dems concerning the whole world so it was very difficult to stay on the one region. So, the key, I think, is to get ethnically-Chinese people elected. In Canada, for instance, there is a profile because they exist. That’s what we need to do here.

Thank you very much for listening. Can I thank the Henry Jackson Society for giving us a platform on which to take about these complex things?


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