LONDON • Seven former British foreign ministers yesterday called on Prime Minister Boris Johnson to push its Group of Seven (G-7) allies to set up an international monitoring group for Hong Kong, in response to Beijing’s tightening control over the restless city.
China has sparked alarm among Western powers with plans to impose a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous financial hub. Beijing says the legislation is needed to combat “terrorism” and “separatism” after the city was upended last year by months of huge and often violent pro-democracy protests.
Opponents fear the law – which is bypassing Hong Kong’s legislature – will be used to stifle dissent, like on the authoritarian mainland, and will deal a fatal blow to the autonomy the former colony was promised ahead of its 1997 handover from Britain.
The United Kingdom, United States, Australia and Canada have issued a joint statement criticising Beijing’s plan, while London has announced plans to extend visa rights to Hong Kongers eligible for British National (Overseas) passports.
But former foreign secretaries from both sides of Britain’s political divide have called on Mr Johnson to take a more proactive role.
“The UK, by itself, cannot change Chinese behaviour on Hong Kong. But the international community working together might,” the letter’s lead author Malcolm Rifkind told AFP.
The letter was co-signed by former foreign secretaries Margaret Beckett, William Hague, Jeremy Hunt, David Miliband, David Owen and Jack Straw.
Mr Rifkind said London should “take the lead in co-ordinating international concern and action” because of the 1984 agreement Beijing made with Britain promising Hong Kong would keep certain freedoms and autonomy for 50 years after the handover.
The group called on Mr Johnson to reach out to G-7 allies to create a working group “to monitor the situation in Hong Kong and coordinate joint action”.
The body could be modelled on a similar organisation set up by the US, Britain, France, Germany, Italy and Russia to respond to the crisis in the Balkans in the early 1990s, they suggested.
Beijing has lashed out at any foreign criticism of its handling of Hong Kong, arguing that the city’s future is an internal affair.
The UK, by itself, cannot change Chinese behaviour on Hong Kong. But the international community working together might.
FORMER BRITISH FOREIGN MINISTER MALCOLM RIFKIND, the letter’s lead author.
However, in yesterday’s letter, the former foreign ministers said Beijing is in “flagrant breach” of their 1984 agreement, which was registered at the UN as a treaty.
The G-7 had planned to meet next month but last Saturday, President Donald Trump said the US, the current summit host, was delaying the scheduled event.
There is no consensus among the G-7 powers over how to respond to Beijing.