LibLink: Edward McMillan-Scott: Britain’s obligation towards Hong Kong

Former MEP Edward McMillan-Scott, who until June was a Vice President of the European Parliament with responsibility for human rights, has written about the current situation in Hong Kong. First he sets out the context:

On the one hand, Conservative Eurosceptics cannot wait to escape from the obligations of the post-war European Court of Human Rights (not an EU body and inspired by the UK) while on the other there is a clamour for the people of Hong Kong to enjoy precisely those rights, under an agreement we made with China, but which Beijing is now breaking.

When it became clear last month that Beijing would rig the selection of the chief executive, Hong Kong’s premier, to be held in 2017, Patten wrote in the Financial Times: “My comments are not directed principally to Beijing or Hong Kong. What a former governor can more legitimately do is to invite an interrogation of Britain’s sense of honour.”

The background is that the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984 formally agreed, in accordance with the “one country, two systems” principle, that on its return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 Hong Kong would become a Special Administrative Region, ensuring that it would keep its freedoms, autonomy and, crucially, the promise of universal suffrage.

The main grievance of the protesters on the streets is China’s interpretation of Article 45 of the Basic Law governing Hong Kong, adopted in 1990. It states that “the ultimate aim is the selection of the Chief Executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures”.

The nature of those democratic procedures is at issue. Indeed, there has been since China’s takeover a game of cat-and-mouse played by Beijing about this. In 2007, with the key pro-democracy activists in the Legislative Council – Hong Kong’s legitimately-elected parliament – we published a democracy charter in response to Beijing’s assertion that the colony’s chief executive would not be elected in fully-free elections until 2048!

Legislators Albert Ho, Emily Lau and Martin Lee continue to lead the protests in the streets, with increasing rancour at the failure, as they see it, of the British government to live up to its obligations.

Edward goes on to say that we must ensure that we honour our obligations to Hong Kong:

Over the years I have met hundreds of people who have been tortured in China’s jails, all prisoners of conscience. Whatever Beijing’s public face, it is a brutal and corrupt regime in reality. I used my position as an MEP to draw attention to this but I do not intend to stay silent now I am no longer in public office.

Of course we must trade with China, but she needs us – and a free-trading, free market, democratic Hong Kong – more than we need her. Above all, we should keep our word in international affairs.

You can read the whole thing here.

* Newshound: bringing you the best Lib Dem commentary in print, on air or online.

Read more by or more about , , or .
This entry was posted in LibLink.


  • Tsar Nicolas 9th Oct '14 - 6:07pm

    Funny we never hear about the greater incarceration rate in the United States, or the existence of the National Defense Authorization Act 2012, which permits indefinite detention of American citizens for no reason and without the need for anyone to be told.

    I guess with all the Hollywood movies we are subjected to, it is difficult for most folk to perceive of the United States as being anything other than the good guy in world affairs.

    It’s interesting that Dr Paul Craig Roberts, a senior member of the Reagan administration and former Wall Street Journal editor (so hardly a commie-loving pinko) has this to say about the HK protests.

    “Whatever is occurring in Hong Kong, it bears no relation to what is being reported about it in the Western print and TV media. These reports spin the protests as a conflict between the demand for democracy and a tyrannical Chinese government

    Ming Chun Tang in the alternative media CounterPunch says that the protests are against the neoliberal economic policies that are destroying the prospects of everyone but the one percent. In other words, the protests are akin to the American occupy movement.

    Another explanation is that once again, as in Kiev, gullible westernized students have been organized by the CIA and US-financed NGOs to take to the streets in hopes that the protests will spread from Hong Kong to other Chinese cities. The Chinese, like the Russians, have been extremely careless in permitting Washington to operate within their countries and to develop fifth columns.”

  • Tsar, even if the USA’s record on Human Rights was in anyway, shape or form relevant to a discussion about the UK obligations to Hong Kong, I think that using the Kiev’s conspiracies about this being a US lead insurgency movement may be a little bit silly.

    As someone who has been to Hong Kong, speaks Stand Chinese and Cantonese, has a Chinese partner, has many Cantonese friends, spent a part of his life growing up in Taiwan and is about to undertake a Masters in Chinese Human Rights Law, I like to think I know I little bit about this region.

    This is a simple case of the Chinese Government misjudging the public mood in Hong Kong and just how much more media push Hong Kong has than places such as Tibet, Xinjiang and others.

    People in Hong Kong are unhappy as the place is currently suffering quite badly from the recession and raising levels of competition from countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. This has lead to uncomfortable levels of racism by the people of Hong Kong against the Mainland Chinese – many incidents of active political / social dissent against the status quo, both in Hong Kong and the Mainland. However, of course, as the faceless, evil, tyrant of bureaucratic and outside influence the bitterness is far more acutely felt against the Government in Beijing. The Government in Hong Kong is seen as corrupt and incompetent, but the Government in Beijing is seen as a foreign oppressor – rightly or wrongly, depending on your political and cultural outlook. (This is a board brush view of the Hong Kong viewpoint.)

    Beijing has always feared HK would once again be a hotbed of dissent (just as it was during the Qing Dynasty) and worries that ‘free democratic elections’ could allow that dissent to be a turned into a ‘legitimate’ political force. The social tensions in Hong Kong over the last few years have only exacerbated these fears because Beijing is not stupid enough to think that is particularly popular in Hong Kong and knows that is the current focus point for the anger of the people of Hong Kong. As such, Beijing thought that it needed to slightly move the goalposts on this whole silly democracy thing to ensure that it was free and fair choice of the ‘Right people’.

    The thing is that Beijing does not really understand the people of Hong Kong forgot that when dealing with people from Hong Kong, it is not dealing with the ‘typical’ Chinese citizen. (It very much forgot this in Taiwan, as well.) The people in Hong Kong do not have the same kind of patriotism and nationalism that the Mainland embeds into its society. Very few people from Hong Kong consider themselves to be 中国人 (Chinese citizens), even if they accept they are 華人 (ethnically Chinese). (I say very few as there may be a few who do, but the vast majority do not. For anyone who is able to read the characters, please do forgive the lazy translations and, yes, the use of simplified for zhongguoren and traditional for Huaren is purposefully done.) They fundamentally consider Hong Kong to be a completely different country and culture to that of the Mainland, much in the same way as the people of Taiwan consider themselves fundamentally different to the Mainland Chinese. This means that they would treat anything from the Mainland to do with Nationalism with extreme mistrust and dislike. It also means that they react very badly to any form of direct influencing by the Mainland. Finally, it means that they see anything from Beijing as a foreign oppression, much to the confusion of Beijing.

    The people of Hong Kong are also quite a bit more internationally facing than individuals from other regions under the control of Beijing, meaning that they can/will make their grievances much more public than others.

    Finally, Beijing does not really seem to appreciate that in Hong Kong, they cannot just do what they do in places such as Weng’an, where they knock heads together and smash things until people quieten down. It does not have absolute authority there. Furthermore, there are far too many parties with the influence and interest in Hong Kong to let it go unnoticed.

    As such, Beijing made a bit of a hash of both its public campaign and its crowd control. In response, Beijing tried to play black-opts democracy (e.g. pay people to support your side, start own riots, get media on side… etc), which only upset the people of Hong Kong more as in their minds it only affirmed their viewpoint that Mainland is out to get them.

    Thus, we are where we are.

  • Sorry, that should be the Russia’s conspiracy theories ,not the Kiev’s, haha.

  • Tsar Nicolas 10th Oct '14 - 2:21am

    @Liberal al
    “People in Hong Kong are unhappy as the place is currently suffering quite badly from the recession and raising levels of competition from countries such as Singapore and Malaysia.”

    Thank you for making my point – the protests are about neoliberal economics.

  • “Three decades ago, China needed Hong Kong more than Hong Kong needs China. Today, the roles have reversed. In the past, Hong Kong served as China’s primary financial channel. That role remains vital, but today China has alternatives and in the future Shanghai will be China’s financial engine.”

  • Liberal Al

    I cannot match your credentials — “As someone who has been to Hong Kong, speaks Stand Chinese and Cantonese, has a Chinese partner, has many Cantonese friends, spent a part of his life growing up in Taiwan and is about to undertake a Masters in Chinese Human Rights Law, I like to think I know I little bit about this region.”

    My father-in-law spoke Chinese and travelled throughout the country. And Frankie Ho who ran our local chip shop here in Kingston was a good friend who for years had an interview with a photograph of me from the local paper stuck on the wall where his customers queued — better than several thousand Focus and election leaflets. But that and my copy of Mao’s little red book (bought in a junk shop in China by my son two years ago) is as close as I have got to China.

    But I hope that I am still allowed an opinion?

    You dismiss the earlier comment about the CIA. ( I have forgotten their new name). But this does not sound so incredible to me. They were most certainly involved in Kiev and I don’t think the USA have even tried to deny it. They were also very actively involved in various of the Arab Spring “uprisings”. Why wouldn’t they be? That is the job of the CIA.

    You didn’t think they are just there to help out James Bond when he goes to the West Indies, did you?

  • Tsar Nicolas
    I don’t think the protesters want the same economic system as mainland China which is a liberalised form of state capitalism but they wish Hoing Kong to enjoy full autonomy. The mainland government will assert control of Hong Kong because of separatist fears in its other regions.However the communist authorities will be reluctant to be heavy handed because of relations with Taiwan,
    John Tilley
    I think it is the KGB that has the new name (My extended family extends to Hong Kong)

  • Manfarang
    You are right — the CIA still goes by that name and they have a fascinating website.
    This includes info on the “National Clandestine Service” as follows —

    CIA Clandestine Service
     The mission of the National Clandestine Service (NCS) is to strengthen national security and foreign policy objectives through the clandestine collection of human intelligence (HUMINT) and Covert Action.

    Seems to me that a presence in Hong Kong for the NCS branch of the CIA is not so unlikely.

  • Richard Underhill 5th Sep '16 - 10:38am

    Universal suffrage in Hong Kong has not yet been achieved. We wait to hear what Theresa May will tell the UK House of Commons after her visit to China for the G20 meeting.

Post a Comment

Lib Dem Voice welcomes comments from everyone but we ask you to be polite, to be on topic and to be who you say you are. You can read our comments policy in full here. Please respect it and all readers of the site.

To have your photo next to your comment please signup your email address with Gravatar.

Your email is never published. Required fields are marked *

Please complete the name of this site, Liberal Democrat ...?


Recent Comments

  • Steve Trevethan
    Thank you for your thoughtful piece. Attached are some questions Mr. Davey might help our society by asking Mr. Starmer before coming to a possible coalition...
  • Peter Davies
    "In 2019 we aimed at increasing our national appeal and look where that got us!" We targeted reasonably well going into 2019. The problem was not that we aimed...
  • Marco
    In 2005 as I recall we didn't really talk about Iraq until the last week or two of the campaign so hopefully something similar might happen with Brexit this tim...
  • Mary ReidMary Reid
    @Graham Jeffs - yes, I am fortunate to be living in a target seat, although I was campaigning for about 20 years before we won it. It's a long game. My point...
  • Alex Macfie
    The mistake made by Clegg & co wasn't going into coalition, it was the way they did it, going in too quickly and conducting it as a "love-in" rather than a ...