By Karim El-Bar
LONDON (AA) – Seven former foreign secretaries have written a letter to the British government urging the UK to take the lead in coordinating an international response to the crisis in Hong Kong, local media reported on Monday.
The letter, from both Conservative and Labour ex-top diplomats, said: “When it comes to Hong Kong’s autonomy under the ‘one country, two systems’ model, many of our international partners continue to take their cue from the British government.
“I’m sure you would agree, as a co-signatory of the Sino-British joint declaration the UK must be seen to be leading and coordinating the international response to this crisis and ensuring the integrity of the treaty lodged at the United Nations in 1985 and one country, two systems.”
It was signed by former foreign secretaries Jeremy Hunt, David Miliband, Jack Straw, William Hague, Malcolm Rifkind, David Owen, and Margaret Beckett.
They called on the government to set up an international contact group such as the one set up in the 1990s to deal with the crisis in the former Yugoslavia.
The foreign secretaries said the UK has a moral and legal obligation to the people of Hong Kong, as it was a former British colony until 1997. China says the matter is an internal affair.
Hong Kong was handed over in an agreement known as “one country, two systems” that allowed the region freedoms not available in mainland China.
The UK has already issued a joint statement with the US, Canada, and Australia reiterating their “deep concern regarding Beijing’s decision to impose a national security law in Hong Kong.”
“Hong Kong has flourished as a bastion of freedom. The international community has a significant and long-standing stake in Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability,” the statement said.
“Direct imposition of national security legislation on Hong Kong by the Beijing authorities, rather than through Hong Kong’s own institutions as provided for under Article 23 of the Basic Law, would curtail the Hong Kong people’s liberties, and in doing so, dramatically erode Hong Kong’s autonomy and the system that made it so prosperous.”
It added: “China’s decision to impose the new national security law on Hong Kong lies in direct conflict with its international obligations under the principles of the legally binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration. The proposed law would undermine the One Country, Two Systems framework.
It also raises the prospect of prosecution in Hong Kong for political crimes, and undermines existing commitments to protect the rights of Hong Kong people.”
A UK-US attempt to raise the issue at the UN Security Council was blocked by China.
Current Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab also previously promised that British national (overseas) passport holders – including up to 3 million in Hong Kong – would be offered a pathway to British citizenship by allowing them to come to the UK and study or work for an extendable 12-month period.
China last week announced the new security law for Hong Kong that would criminalize undermining Beijing’s authority in the region. The move sparked international condemnation and protests in Hong Kong.