Hong Kong’s legislature has today moved one step closer to becoming a local branch of the Chinese Communist party, after the disqualification of four of the most moderate, mainstream pro-democracy legislators resulted in the resignation en masse of every single pro-democracy legislator in protest.
For the first time since 1997 the body now has no pro-democracy voices, marking yet another nail in the coffin of ‘one country, two systems.’
The four legislators who were ousted by Beijing — Alvin Yeung, Kwok Ka-ki, Dennis Kwok and Kenneth Leung — are hardly radical pro-independence activists. As lawyers and accountants, for years they have represented the pro-democracy establishment, working within the system to protect the rule of law, due process and autonomy Hong Kong was promised in the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The decision by the rest of the pro-democracy legislators to resign in protest at their ousting is courageous and right. It is a tragedy it has come to this, but they clearly could not continue to work in a legislature that is rapidly becoming a mouthpiece for the Chinese regime. In taking this dramatic step today, they have not walked out or abandoned their duties as representatives of the people — it is Beijing that has forced them out.
The removal of the four pro-democracy lawmakers took place after the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress in Beijing ruled that:
‘…lawmakers should be disqualified if they support Hong Kong independence, refuse to acknowledge China’s sovereignty, ask foreign forces to interfere in the city’s affairs or in other ways threaten national security.’
This arbitrary and vaguely-worded edict represents a grave violation of the city’s autonomy and Basic Law (the territory’s mini-constitution). In the same way that Beijing imposed the national security law on Hong Kong in July, this decree directly threatens due process and the rule of law in Hong Kong.
Every legislator who has ever talked to a foreign parliamentarian, journalist or activist could fall foul of Beijing’s new measure, which bans legislators from asking ‘foreign forces to interfere’ — a truly ridiculous situation. And now that there is no opposition in the legislature, judicial independence will likely be next in Beijing’s sights.
A week ago Xi Jinping’s regime published its 14th five-year plan, in which it proposes ‘comprehensive jurisdiction’ over Hong Kong by 2025. In other words, direct rule. The five-year plan emphasizes the need to ‘implement the central government’s comprehensive jurisdiction over the two [cities], as well as their legal systems and enforcement mechanisms.’ In the end it only took Beijing a week to further the implementation process with the removal of Hong Kong’s parliamentarians.
The British government must lead the international community in a robust outcry against this move. Not only has Beijing torn up its international agreement with Britain — an act which calls into question its reliability when it comes to any other treaty it has signed — but it now directly threatens the viability of Hong Kong as an international financial and trading center. Now that we are seeing lawyers and accountants being kicked out of the legislature at Beijing’s instruction today, what is the future for the city’s lawyers, accountants and professionals? Those who uphold transparency or challenge corruption could simply disappear, as they do in the mainland.
In response, the British foreign secretary Dominic Raab should establish an international group of like-minded allies to coordinate a global response to the emasculation of Hong Kong. That should include the imposition of targeted sanctions against officials in the Chinese and Hong Kong governments for breaches of international law. It should also include efforts at the United Nations, to establish a mechanism to monitor and report on human rights violations. And the UK should encourage others to offer a lifeboat rescue package, to offer those who now wish to flee Hong Kong a place of sanctuary.
Britain should lead, but the response should be multilateral. The free world must stand together. This is no longer only about Hong Kong — it is about freedom itself. A global response is more likely to have some effect on Beijing and a failure to stand together will mean Beijing will try to pick us off one by one.
Britain’s response to the imposition of the national security law in July was generous and bold. The offer of a pathway to citizenship to British National Overseas (BNO) status holders from Hong Kong was truly historic and very welcome. Now is the time for a similarly bold response. Weakness or silence will only further embolden Beijing, leaving Taiwan ever more vulnerable and bringing the threats to our own freedom and security ever closer to home.