Published: 01:11, May 31, 2023 | Updated: 10:12, May 31, 2023
UK’s six-monthly report on HK reveals its American vassal state status
By Tony Kwok

Once again, the United Kingdom is playing vassal to the United States in trying to smear China and the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region by publishing another six-monthly report on Hong Kong. It was almost a replica of the recent report by the US Congressional-Executive Commission on China (CECC) in maliciously smearing the implementation of the National Security Law for Hong Kong (NSL). 

Both reports consist of blatant lies written in pretentious diplomatic language. They reminded us of how the US and UK lied to the world about the alleged existence of “weapons of mass destruction” in Iraq and used their lie as an excuse to invade Iraq, another sovereign state, resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers and civilians and the dislocation of millions more. The UK should have learned from that episode not to blindly follow Washington’s lead in its foreign affairs. 

In its report, the UK argues that it has the right to hold China to its obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. But what right and obligation? Let’s take a closer look at the Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, a two-page document with only eight clauses that can be read in five minutes. There are four significant points deserving of special attention.

First, in Clause 1, China declared that it would resume the exercise of sovereignty over Hong Kong; and in Clause 2, the UK declared that it would restore Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China with effect from July 1, 1997. The return of sovereignty must mean that the UK government no longer has any say in the internal affairs of Hong Kong. It would undoubtedly generate considerable pushback from its former colonies to suggest that the UK government can continue to publish six-monthly reports commenting on the governance of Singapore or India.

Second, in Clause 3, China declared that its basic policies regarding Hong Kong would be embedded in the Basic Law and remain unchanged for 50 years. So once the National People’s Congress passed the Basic Law, China’s obligation under this clause was fulfilled. Legally speaking, the governance of HKSAR is based on the Basic Law, not the Joint Declaration, which accords no right of governance or supervision to the UK government. The so-called “moral responsibility” has no legal basis in international law.

Third, Clause 3 (2) states that the HKSAR will enjoy a high degree of autonomy (not full autonomy) and that its foreign and defense affairs will come under the purview of the central government. National security is clearly within the ambit of national defense and, therefore, a matter for the central authorities. 

The paramount importance of national security is a matter the UK government knows all too well, as it enacted the most draconian National Security and Investment Act in 2021. It is also in the process of passing an even more draconian National Security Act 2022-23, proposing that anyone can be confined for up to 5 years without trial in the name of national security. It’s thus blatant hypocrisy for the UK to castigate the HKSAR’s implementation of the NSL, especially given the traumatic experience the city went through with its foreign-instigated insurrection in 2019-20, which saw its gullible local proxies inflicting wanton property destruction and violence against fellow citizens who do not share their radical politics. 

Fourth, it should be pointed out that there is no provision in the Joint Declaration setting out what democratic reform Hong Kong should institute. Its only reference to elections is in Clause 3 (4), which states that the Central People’s Government will appoint the chief executive based on the results of elections or consultations. Therefore, the report’s allegation that the reduction of directly elected seats in the Legislative Council is a breach of the Joint Declaration is utter nonsense.

To demonstrate its moral responsibility, it would be more helpful for the UK government to publish a six-monthly report on the plight of those BNO immigrants, including the number who have, or are planning to, return to Hong Kong

As a spokesman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs pointed out, Hong Kong was returned to China 26 years ago, and it is time the UK wakes up from its bygone colonial dream. The HKSAR government rightly issued a statement, strongly refuting the slanderous remarks and ill-intentioned political attacks on the HKSAR in the report. 

If this is intended to be a truthful and balanced report on Hong Kong, it should have at least mentioned that Hong Kong is once again a harmonious and prosperous society, having weathered the chaos and violence created by the insurrectionists in 2019-20. Understandably, it has refrained from mentioning the roles the UK and US governments played behind the scenes instigating their local proxies to launch the “color revolution” in Hong Kong. Unsurprisingly, some rioters were seen waving the British colonial flags as they clashed with the police during the 2019 insurrection. The report should have revealed to the UK taxpayers how much money the UK government had wasted sponsoring the “color revolution” in Hong Kong.

It should be stressed that the NSL was enacted to restore the enjoyment of rights and freedoms many people in the HKSAR had been deprived of during the citywide chaos and violence in 2019-20. Most residents heaved a sigh of relief on seeing their city’s return to normalcy, thereby allowing them to resume working and enjoying their lives in peace, instead of seeing their human rights and freedoms compromised by the NSL. These are now everyday facts that the report has ignored because its primary purpose was to harm both the central and HKSAR governments.

During the insurrection, when radical activists were seen waving the British colonial flags while urging that Hong Kong should be “free” from Beijing’s rule, the UK government should have voiced its concerns as this was in violation of the Joint Declaration. But it never expressed any concerns, nor did it do anything to help preserve the primacy of China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong. In other words, every time it piously demanded respect for the Joint Declaration, it was, in effect, shedding crocodile tears. In reality, the UK was violating the Joint Declaration by default.

Ironically, the report criticized the tightening of procedures in the admission of overseas lawyers in national security trials in Hong Kong, but cheerfully ignored the fact that in the UK, overseas lawyers are not allowed to practice at all. Such deficiencies reflect the report’s double standards and hypocrisy.

Like the US report, the UK report treated Jimmy Lai Chee-ying’s court case as evidence of “human rights abuse” and media “freedom clampdown”. These are blatant lies. Lai is a British citizen and currently faces charges of collusion with foreign forces and sedition, both universally recognized as the most severe national security offenses, and which have nothing to do with human rights. All nations would treat this as a grave criminal offense, and the accused would most unlikely be allowed bail pending trial. I suggest that the Western governments and media be more patient as the trial will soon commence in open court, and all the evidence of his alleged collusion with foreign forces and his seditious conduct will be exposed for all to see!

On the other hand, China has said the UK’s British National (Overseas) program is a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the UK’s earlier promise to China. Indeed in 2008, Britain’s then-attorney general, Peter Goldsmith, had advised that the granting of full British citizenship to BNO passport holders “would be a breach of the commitment made between China and the UK in the 1984 Joint Declaration on the future of Hong Kong”. What the UK did was come up with the flimsy excuse that since the program does not grant permanent residency in the UK and these passport holders have no right to vote in UK elections, it is not a breach of the agreement. How cunning! 

Indeed, the report points out that the BNO program has made “an immense contribution to our (British) society”. This is revelatory! The BNO program cannot stand scrutiny without being exposed as the biggest con job of the century. First, if you have no money, you are not welcome. It will only welcome those who can prove they have the financial means to support themselves and their dependents. At the same time, they are not entitled to a single penny of social and medical benefits, and yet must pay British taxes on their income in the UK and elsewhere. This is the classic case of the UK having everything to gain but nothing to lose. There is also no guarantee for them ever to acquire citizenship and every possibility of being expelled after five years if they were found to have made little contribution to the UK. Indeed, most countries would love to introduce such a self-serving immigration program, but they do not have such thick skin as the UK to claim that the scheme is “intended to protect the rights and freedoms of people in Hong Kong”, while the true purpose is to use Hong Kong people’s money to rescue its floundering economy.

If the report is to be a genuine reflection of the situation in Hong Kong, it should mention that Hong Kong has the lowest crime rate in the world during this period. To put it in perspective, it is 10 times safer to walk the streets in Hong Kong than in London. The report should also mention that the Hong Kong Judiciary continues to enjoy outstanding repute, with many British judges remaining on the bench and its Final Court of Appeal joined by a panel of distinguished and eminent global jurists, including two former chief justices of Australia, the former chief justice of Canada, and two former presidents of the UK Supreme Court (Nicholas Phillips and David Neuberger). They are the best answer to the report’s slanderous comments on Hong Kong’s rule of law and judiciary.

What the UK should do is stop being the vassal of the US and learn from France and Germany to pursue its own foreign and economic policy. Smearing China and its HKSAR does not serve the UK’s national interest

Some comparative statistics between Hong Kong and the UK should also be relevant to the readers of this report. In terms of life expectancy, according to the World Health Organization, Hong Kong tops out at 85 years, the highest in the world, compared with 81 years in the UK. According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report 2021, Hong Kong ranks third out of 137 countries and regions in terms of the quality of its education, while the UK ranks 23rd. This should be a blow to those BNO passport holders who claimed they emigrated to the UK in the interest of their children’s education. 

According to the World Health Organization’s World Health Statistics 2021 report, Hong Kong has 5.9 hospital beds per 1,000 population, more than double the UK’s 2.5. No wonder many BNO immigrants complained that the UK hospitals refused to treat their COVID-19 infections. Regarding the inflation rate, Hong Kong recorded 1.7 percent in 2022, while the UK’s is a staggering 10.1 percent right now. The truth is that Hong Kong continues to prosper after the reunification, while Britain is experiencing the sharpest decline in living standards in recorded history. 

To demonstrate its moral responsibility, it would be more helpful for the UK government to publish a six-monthly report on the plight of those BNO immigrants, including the number who have, or are planning to, return to Hong Kong. 

In conclusion, with the successful implementation of the NSL and the revamped election system based on the principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”, the city has emerged from chaos to order and is proceeding to prosperity. Foreign investors have shown greater confidence in Hong Kong’s future, and its status as an international finance center, trading powerhouse and transportation hub has remained intact. Indeed, the report did pay tribute to the fact that the total trade between the UK and Hong Kong was 26.7 billion pounds ($33 billion) in 2022, an increase of 11.2 percent or 2.7 billion pounds from 2021. There are clear advantages for the UK to pursue a closer economic relationship with the HKSAR and China as a whole to build up a win-win situation, which the UK badly needs after the disastrous Brexit and its current financial crisis. 

What the UK should do is stop being the vassal of the US and learn from France and Germany to pursue its own foreign and economic policy. Smearing China and its HKSAR does not serve the UK’s national interest.

The author is an honorary fellow of HKU Space and a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.