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Hong Kong's rule of law is on the brink. It is up to Britain to take more substantial steps urgently to let China know that breaking international treaties has diplomatic costs.
With all eyes on the storming of Capitol Hill, it would have been easy to miss the Hong Kong Democrats purge on Wednesday.
The significance of the Chinese government's actions should not be underestimated. It is a hammer blow for the democratic movement. The arrest of 53 democratic politicians – from the most moderate to the most radical – exposes the true meaning of the national security law. It means that virtually every prominent pro-democracy figure is now either in prison, indicted, retired, or in exile.
Most absurd of all are the charges brought against them. Their alleged crime? Hold primaries and try to win a majority. City Security Secretary John Lee said the opposition attempting to take control of the Legislative Council amounted to "undermining".
The illusion that Hong Kong is an international, liberal city has been broken. It is now clear that Carrie Lam has little more power than a provincial mayor and that the city is run from Beijing.
Hong Kong is fast approaching the position where all dissent is potentially criminal
The National Security Act, which was enforced through a dictate from the central government, now takes precedence when there are conflicts between the requirements of the legislation and those of the city's mini-constitutional law, the Basic Law. This means that the safeguards for human rights enshrined in the constitution are becoming increasingly meaningless: & # 39; national security & # 39; has been given such a broad definition, which now includes even the drive to win elections, that Hong Kong is rapidly approaching the position where all dissent exists. potentially criminal.
To make matters worse, the city leader is also given the power to hand-select the judges in national security cases. Hong Kong has traditionally been famous for its independence from the judiciary. But in the context of national security cases, the executive branch now has the power to choose both the charge (the Justice Secretary is the head of the prosecution) and the judge. The rule of law of the city is teetering on the edge.
What does this mean for us in the UK? This latest series of arrests is yet another sign of China & # 39; s total disregard for the obligations made to Great Britain under international law under the Sino-British Joint Declaration. They have shown disdain for the treaty that was signed in good faith in 1984, and it is up to the UK Government to now firmly state that this is unacceptable. There must be consequences.
While the offer from British National (Overseas) is to be welcomed, we need to take more substantial steps to indicate that treaty-breaking has diplomatic costs. The first and easiest way to do this would be for Dominic Raab to designate a list of Hong Kong and Chinese central government officials under the Magnitsky sanctions regime. A second step to consider is to apply for a case to be heard by the International Court of Justice under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties.
While it is unlikely that China will accept the jurisdiction of the ICJ, the act of bringing the matter up would be fraught with meaning and symbolism.
Joe Biden's inauguration provides further opportunities for the formation of an international alliance of liberal democracies so that coordination takes place. British Hong Kong policy must be coordinated with our Five Eyes allies, the EU and regional allies such as India and Japan. This is the best way the democratic world is showing that Hong Kong is important to us, and we will not look the other way.
Our financial institutions also need to be scrutinized. HSBC has endorsed the National Security Act and has even frozen the assets of Hong Kong Democrats. Their complicity needs to be scrutinized more closely – their private meetings with ministers should be halted until their position changes.
We should also ask ourselves whether it is correct that British institutional investors are investing millions in Chinese state-owned companies linked to the Chinese military. The US government has begun to restrict investment in these companies. If the situation in Hong Kong does not improve, the UK should consider similar measures.
Yet there are broader lessons to be learned here. They must be at the heart of our Chinese strategy. The willingness of the Chinese Communist Party to set aside this good faith treaty shows that we need to re-examine our various dependencies. If the promises in the joint statement cannot be trusted, Beijing's involvement should be questioned when considering the presence of China General Nuclear or Huawei in our key strategic infrastructure.
Finally, Parliament should reflect on China's broader human rights record and what steps could be taken to tackle the Uyghur genocide. I co-sponsored an amendment to the Commercial Act passed by the House of Lords in December, which allows UK courts to denounce genocide.
Too often the international community reacts too slowly to genocide because of the geopolitics that govern international courts. The House of Commons must approve this amendment so that we can act vigorously when genocides occur – whether from the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang or the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
It is time we took these seriously. Human rights should be at the heart of British foreign policy.
Baroness Kennedy is a Labor Member of the House of Lords and a Co-Chair of the Interparlementary Alliance on China.