British minister grilled on HK actions

Local | Cindy Wan 6 Dec 2018

The British government minister whose responsibilities include keeping track of issues in the SAR says the banning of the Hong Kong National Party breached the spirit of "one country, two systems."

Mark Field, minister of state for Asia and the Pacific at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, made the remark in the House of Commons in response to a question by Labour member of parliament Helen Goodman.

\She asked what the British government had done after the banning of the independence-minded party.

As Goodman saw it, the ban marked a "disturbing new phase in the erosion of democratic rights and freedoms by China" and a violation of the spirit of the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.

Field replied: "We do not support Hong Kong independence as we feel that would be a clear breach of one country, two systems."

Nevertheless, he said, the right to stand for election and the right to free speech - and freedom of association - were "absolutely enshrined" in the Basic Law.

So the British government was concerned that "if not the letter then certainly the spirit of one country, two systems" was breached.

Field was also asked if the British government was taking steps to protect the interests of British nationals and holders of British National (Overseas) passports in Hong Kong.

On that, Field noted the unexplained and abrupt visa denial to British national Victor Mallet after the Financial Times' Asia news editor chaired a talk by National Party founder Andy Chan Ho-tin at the Foreign Correspondents' Club in Hong Kong. Mallet was acting in the capacity of the club's first vice president. Field said that incident called into question Hong Kong's autonomy.

"We have also made it clear in private to the Chinese and Hong Kong governments that it is vital Hong Kong's rights, freedoms and high degree of autonomy, which are set out in the Joint Declaration, are fully respected," he added.

"Political prosecutions" in Hong Kong were a concern raised by MP Fiona Bruce, who brought up the fact nine leaders of the Occupy movement faced public nuisance charges.

Field said that action was for Hong Kong's courts. He added that he met the head of the Hong Kong Bar Association when he visited the SAR in November, and he had every confidence in the continued independence of Hong Kong's judiciary.

But he hoped the prosecutions that Bruce raised "will not discourage either lawful protests or the young from engaging in politics."

cindymt.wan@singtaonewscorp.com

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