The UK government is considering slapping sanctions on China after the Asian nation set up new rules that disqualify elected legislators, thereby breaching the Sino-British joint declaration treaty between the two countries. The Hong Kong treaty was signed by British PM Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang in 1984. It guarantees the autonomy of Hong Kong under the “one country, two systems” agreement. By disqualifying legislators, China has broken this agreement.
The Chinese parliament recently enacted a resolution that allows Hong Kong’s executive to expel lawmakers who are identified as arguing for the independence of Hong Kong or working with foreign forces in a way that threatens national security. The executive does not have to go through the courts to enact the expulsion. Subsequently, four opposition lawmakers were expelled from the city assembly. This raised a commotion and the remaining opposition lawmakers have threatened to resign to protest against the expulsion of their colleagues.
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The UK reacted by bringing up the possibility of sanctions. “We will continue to consider designations under our Magnitsky-style sanctions regime… It’s not entirely appropriate to speculate who may be designated under the sanctions regime in the future as that could reduce the impact but we are carefully considering further designations under the scheme,” said Britain’s minister for Asia, Nigel Adams, as reported by AFR. The EU has also called on the Chinese regime to reverse the new rules.
According to British foreign secretary Dominic Raab, he is consulting with the Lord Chancellor as to whether British judges should continue sitting on the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal, something that is enshrined in the Basic Law. At present, there are 13 foreigners who are serving as non-permanent judges in the top court of Hong Kong, of which nine are British citizens. In a document prepared by Britain’s Foreign Office, Raab notes that the National Security Law imposed on Hong Kong has damaged the freedom of expression of academia, schools, and libraries by removing political content from textbooks that Beijing finds unpalatable.
The British government’s condemnation of China comes at a time when three key Hong Kong activists are currently being detained. The three activists, Joshua Wong, Ivan Lam, and Agnes Chow, were all arrested under the National Security Law and charged with inciting people to take part in protests and illegal assembly. If deemed guilty, they can end up in prison for up to five years. More than 10,000 protesters have been arrested by Hong Kong police over charges like unauthorized assembly and rioting. Even though facing a potential jail term, Joshua Wong said that he will not stop his activism.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government seems to be creating trouble for organizers of the Tiananmen Massacre vigil. The annual vigil has been organized for 31 years by the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements of China and is a reminder of the brutal 1989 Tiananmen crackdown in Beijing. The organization had bid for three booths at next year’s Lunar New Year flower market.
However, officials from the Food and Environment Hygiene Department asked the organization’s vice chairman to show his previous experience in running booths, something that only he was asked to do. The vice-chairman suspects that this is being deliberately done to delay the process. This comes in the face of a scathing article by a Chinese professor who accused the Alliance of breaching the National Security Law since it is funded by “foreign anti-China forces.”