Two British MPs have called on the UK to directly condemn Beijing for failing to hold up its end of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, asking Boris Johnson’s government to consider sanctions against Chinese officials and companies.
Thousands, dressed in black, gathered in a public square Friday evening in Hong Kong’s business district in defiance of showers that had swept through the city.
“What is happening in Hong Kong is truly a human rights crisis in the making,” said MP Heidi Allen, in a message read to the crowd. “We mustn’t allow China to use this as an opportunity to bully us into submission, and relinquish our responsibilities.”
“This slow erosion of your freedoms is precisely what the Sino-British Joint Declaration was supposed to avoid when Britain signed that agreement in 1984,” said Tom Watson in a recorded address.
The extradition proposal “clearly breaches that understanding and starts to align Hong Kong’s legal system with that of China; this is not acceptable,” he added.
“The UK must not sit idly by as Hong Kongers lose their rights and freedoms,” he added as he called on the UK government to show “direct moral support” for city residents and to scope out steps to apply pressure on Chinese officials and companies.
Cheers erupted in response to the messages at the peaceful rally. The Union Flag and Hong Kong’s British colonial flag have been fixtures at mass protests that have snaked through the city for three months, as protesters have continually called on the UK to express further support to preserve freedoms in the former colony.
Mr Johnson and other British officials have already called on China to continue recognising the Joint Declaration as the protests continue. In 2014, China called the agreement a historical document with no present significance, worrying many that the freedoms long enjoyed in the former British colony were gradually disappearing.
China, however, has condemned the UK for interfering in domestic affairs, threatening the government to keep out of the political situation in Hong Kong and accusing the government of retaining a colonial mindset.
Joshua Wong, a prominent protest leader imprisoned after the Umbrella Revolution of 2014, told The Telegraph: “It’s time for the Prime Minister, and I believe Boris Johnson should take a more active role. I know it’s hard for him to strongly support Hong Kong democratisation with solid action or legislation, but at least make a phone call to president Xi [Jinping] to remind him not to send troops to Hong Kong – it’s not the solution.”
Andy Chan, founder of the Hong Kong National Partyadded that Mr Johnson wasn’t “speaking up enough”. “If they do not speak up, they are making the joint declaration into another Munich Agreement.”
In June, the UK halted further export licenses for crowd control equipment indefinitely until human rights issues were addressed after human rights group Amnesty International said some of the tear gas canisters fired by police to disperse crowds were manufactured by PW Defence, a British defence company.
Protesters first came out against a now-suspended extradition proposal, though have stayed in the streets to demand the formal withdrawal of the bill. Calls have also expanded to include broader political reforms including the resignation of the city’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, and direct leadership elections.