What's going on in Hong Kong?


How did it all start?

In 1842 China signed Hong Kong island to Britain after the First Opium War and in 1898 China officially leased the New Territories together with 235 islands to Britain for 99 years from 1 July. Over the decades, thousands of Chinese migrants fleeing domestic upheavals settled in the colony, and by the approach of the handover date, Hong Kong was established as an economic powerhouse in Asia. Handover talks began in 1982 and by 1984 Britain and China signed the Joint Declaration on how Hong Kong would revert to Chinese rule in 1997. Under the "one country, two systems" formula, Hong Kong would become part of one communist-led country but retain its capitalist economic system and partially democratic political system for 50 years after the handover (so expiring in 2047) and so in 1997 Hong Kong was officially handed back to Chinese authorities. Throughout the 2000s there were many pro-democracy Hong Kong protests and calls for more democratic reforms to pressure China to grant full democracy to the territory. By August 2014 Chinese government announced that for the 2017 election, only candidates approved by Beijing would be allowed to run, this led to the Umbrella Movement of mass pro-democracy demonstrations, with the city centre occupied for weeks. Over the following years these protests continued against Chinese influence in Hong Kong, opposing various Chinese attempts to limit democracy and autonomy.

Modern day issues in HK

In June 2020, China passed a new security law for Hong Kong, making it easier to punish protesters and reducing the city's autonomy, however the law was passed by Chinese government rather than the Hong Kong Legislative Council. This new law was and is highly controversial, as it limits many individual freedoms and brings Chinese law and national security agencies into Hong Kong. The law allows for broad definitions of national security used in mainland China, where such measures are often used against political dissidents. This law means that suspects can now be sent to mainland China for trial and allows closed trials and trials without a jury, as well as allowing for the expanse of police powers, with this new law also applying to non-permanent residents too. Many fear this new law is the gateway to further reduction of Hong Kong’s autonomy and freedom. This law has been met with much Western criticism and many protests. Furthermore, in January 2021, Hong Kong’s government proposed changing an existing law to allow the director of immigration to stop an individual from leaving without first going through a court, which would further limit the ability of current residents to ‘escape’ from Hong Kong and from this harsh Chinese rule. January 2021 also brought the arrests of over 50 pro-democracy activists and politicians with UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab claiming the arrests were a "grievous attack" on rights applied under the joint declaration signed with Britain in 1997. These events show an increase in Chinese intervention in Hong Kong, decreasing political freedoms and democracy.

What can Britain do, and arguably, to what extent?

When the new security law was passed in June 2020, Boris Johnson declared it broke the terms of the 1997 handover. The government introduced a “path to citizenship”, open to more than 5 million Hong Kong residents, where anyone with a British national overseas (BNO) passport, and their dependents, is eligible to move to the UK for up to 5 years and then apply for permanent residency. This is an incredibly important step in supporting the residents of Hong Kong, however China has claimed they will not recognise BNO passports. The Home Office estimates that over 300,000 people will take up this offer over the next five years, it is also likely to be financially beneficial for the UK, as Government figures put the “net benefit” for the UK at between £2.4bn and £2.9bn. However, more measures need to be put in place to accommodate and support these arrivals, with activist groups warning that the government needs to do more to prepare for the new arrivals, particularly given a spike in hate crime against people of East Asian heritage since the start of the pandemic. Hong Kong Watch and 10 other campaign groups and charities have written to the government urging them to step up work to support both the new arrivals and local authorities who will help them settle in. “There does not yet appear to be a meaningful plan to ensure that the new arrivals properly integrate,” says the letter, as it pleads for a cross-government working group. Measures to aid integration are essential and include increased school capacity, language classes and guidance on updating and transferring qualifications, and more. Also experts believe, a publicity campaign to ensure that BNO status is widely recognised would help immigrants gain wider access to everything from bank accounts to rental contracts. There has also yet to even be an appointment of an official to coordinate these efforts. The group Hong Kongers in Britain (HKB) suggests migrants expect to experience difficulties finding housing and jobs and some have raised concerns they might be tracked by "informants or secret agents" from China. HKB is also lobbying the Home Office to show discretion to people who may have criminal records in Hong Kong from their participation in pro-democracy protests. We are looking for MP support for integration schemes, and for the rest of these measures that would help make this scheme more effective. 

In January 2021, the USA imposed new trade sanctions on China in response to the arrests of the pro-democracy activists and politicians, the sanctions target two Communist party officials involved with Hong Kong policy, a pro-Beijing legislator in the territory and three Hong Kong security officials. These sanctions bar Americans from trading with these people. Perhaps the introduction of similar British sanctions could be an appropriate response to China’s encroachment upon democracy and violation of the handover agreement. Moreover, a 2020 report from Westminster’s China Research Group, suggested the UK should sanction banks that help implement the June 2020 security law and so are actively diminishing human rights. The report said PM Boris Johnson should also enact sanctions against these UK companies (such as HSBC, NatWest and Barclays) and freeze their assets. Hence, as stated in the report “If London were to reciprocate the bipartisan consensus in Washington by imposing similar sanctions on financial institutions, it could become difficult for those institutions to fully comply with the national security law, effectively pushing back on continued expansion of CCP influence in Hong  Kong.”

Additionally, the UK’s bilateral trade agreement with China was signed 34 years ago, in 1986, therefore it is lacking any concerns for Beiijing’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy, or China’s human rights record, therefore it is becoming imperative that this investment treaty must be reviewed by those in power. Much of Chinese investment is happening at regional levels, as many Chinese owned enterprises win multi-million contracts - including when in 2019, the Chinese state-owned enterprise won a £330 million contract for the redevelopment of Crompton place shopping centre in Bolton. These contracts are largely awarded by value for money and lacking the moral or the political scrutiny that would challenge the source of these funds. Ergo, we would also encourage the review of this one-sided and out of date trade agreement, as we are urging UK policymakers to consider using Britain’s economic power to enforce some accountability on China.

Arguably it is the UK’s responsibility, more than any other countries, to defend the rights of those living in Hong Kong, as it is the fault of British colonialism and imperialism for this original separation, which has led to many of these present issues. Furthermore, it is Britain’s deal with China that is at present being breached, which surely gives cause for some sort of British intervention.

What can we do

By contacting your local MP, using the provided draft, you can help to lobby for change and justice in Hong Kong. Our draft requests MP support for integration schemes as well as taking economic action against China. We have already contacted foreign secretary Dominic Raab, as well as shadow foreign secretary Lisa Nandy, and the Conservative China Research Group and are awaiting their responses. Also, another action you could take would be by supporting charities like UK-based groups like Hong Kong Watch, who are speaking out for Hong Kong, and advocate within the UK.