Writing this article in Hong Kong might not be safe – Christine Jardine MP

All countries and institutions must now decide whether to stand with the people of Hong Kong or the Chinese Communist party, writes Christine Jardine MP.

A man is detained by riot police during a protest against draconian new laws in Hong Kong (Picture: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)
A man is detained by riot police during a protest against draconian new laws in Hong Kong (Picture: Anthony Kwan/Getty Images)

There’s one particular piping tune that always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. The Black Bear is reputed to have been played by Scottish regiments as they returned to barracks at the end of manoeuvres.

Perhaps it was the family connection to pipe bands, perhaps it was the reminder that even in the furthest flung corners of the world there is a recognition of all things Scottish.

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Or perhaps it was the poignancy of the correct completion of the circle, that the Island once dominated by the trading company founded by Scotsman William Jardine was being returned to its own people, accompanied by that most Caledonian of music.

But on the night of the handover ceremony in Hong Kong to mark the end of the British lease in 1997, the sight and sound of the pipe band marching off to its swaggering lilt reduced me to tears.

I wonder now if it was also that nagging doubt, a persistent concern which hovered around every discussion of the time.

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The fear that someday we might see played out on the streets of Hong Kong exactly the sort of brutal crackdown and imposition of Chinese law and adherence to the state that we have witnessed this past week.

In 1997 those doubts had been largely assuaged by the Joint Declaration, a treaty signed by the British and Chinese in 1984, which would ensure that when China resumed control certain conditions would remain in place for 50 years.

Among them were agreements that the city would retain an agreed amount of autonomy from mainland China, and that Hong Kong’s legal and judicial system would be unchanged.

Any remaining faith in that document was destroyed this week when the Communist Party of China passed the National Security Law for Hong Kong in direct contraction of that Sino-British agreement.

China has broken its word to the people of Hong Kong.

The sweeping new legislation creates four vague crimes of secession, terrorism, subverting state power and colluding with foreign forces to undermine national security.

The potential sentences are draconian. They include potential life imprisonment, deportation for foreign nationals and are backed by the encouragement of confession.

There are fears for the civil and political freedoms of Hongkongers. “A far-reaching threat to Hong Kong’s freedoms” is how Amnesty International described the new law.

We have the evidence replayed on our own TVs. Pepper spray. Water cannons. A 15-year-old girl arrested for holding up a sign. Young people punished for asserting their liberty. Freedom of speech turned off overnight.

I’m not entirely sure that simply writing this article would be possible, or safe there, under the new law.

It is as inspiring as it is insufferable to watch Hongkongers fight for their rights. But we should not forget that there were two signatories to that treaty.

In breaking with its promises to the people of Hong Kong, the Chinese government has also breached its international obligation under that treaty to the United Kingdom.

In the House of Commons this week, the Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab made it clear that, in his words, the UK Government wants “a positive relationship with China”. That the UK Government respects China and expects it to meet its international obligations.

There was a rare consensus across the house and support for his commitment that the UK Government will “live up to its responsibilities to the people of Hong Kong”.

But it cannot stop there. Yes the announcement of bespoke immigration route for those living in Hong Kong, holding British National Overseas (BNO) status and their dependents is welcome.

However I cannot help but wonder if much of the current crisis for those individuals could have been averted if we had headed the warnings of Liberal Democrat leader Paddy Ashdown in 1997 and established such a scheme then.

Similarly we have to be sure that when those who wish to come to this country, bringing with them vital skills for our economy, are not merely allowed, but welcomed and indeed encouraged to flourish here.

The Government has promised that every BNO will be granted five years’ limited leave to remain, with the right to work or study.

After that they will be able to apply for settle status and after 12 further months of that, entitled to apply for citizenship.

It is, say the Government, a special bespoke arrangement for a unique set of circumstances, a sentiment perhaps designed to placate those amongst their own supporters who adhere to a more hostile approach to immigration.

And that is where we must pay heed to the spectre of previous special circumstances whose welcome turned sour. Windrush. If we are to be true to our promises to the people of Hong Kong, we must not make the same mistakes again.

This bespoke scheme must work long term and provide the people with security that stretches beyond the immediate future. We owe them no less.

The wealth that was created in Hong Kong during its 150-year lease from China was one of the foundations on which this country built its trading and economic strength.

In the same way as we must recognise our long-ignored responsibility for the enslavement of millions of people, we must now return the commitment which we expected from Hong Kong and its people over more than a century. It was perhaps best summed up in the words this week of my colleague Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland.

He told the House of Commons that the events of this week have left us with a clear choice and said “surely all countries and all institutions must understand that this is a moment when you have to pick a side – either you can be on the side of, and stand with Hong Kong and the joint declaration, or you choose to stand with the Chinese Communist party”.

I stand with Hong Kong.

Christine Jardine is the Scottish Liberal Democrat MP for Edinburgh West

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