SPEECH BY LORD ALTON OF LIVERPOOL AT THE PARLIAMENTARY HONG KONG WATCH DINNER: HOUSE OF LORDS, November 27th 2018
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:
It is my privilege to welcome you to the House of Lords and to this dinner to celebrate the first anniversary of the launch of Hong Kong Watch.
This organisation, launched in Speaker’s House on 11 December last year, has already, in the short time it has been in existence, displayed an energy, a productivity and a quality that has won it many friends, both among the people of Hong Kong and in both Houses of Parliament. People in Hong Kong have regularly told us how grateful they are that at long-last someone is speaking up for them.
Hong Kong’s basic freedoms, the rule of law and autonomy are – as you will all be very well aware – increasingly threatened and eroded. ‘One country, two systems’, the principle on which Hong Kong’s handover to China 21 years ago was based, is threatened. In recent weeks we have seen the Asia Editor of the Financial Times expelled and subsequently denied entry to the city – a city that is one of the world’s major financial centres and prides itself with the slogan “Asia’s world city”. We have seen a political party banned. In previous months we have seen young pro-democracy activists jailed and democratic legislators and candidates disqualified.
Last week 9 of the leaders of the pro-democracy Umbrella movement found themselves on trial under absurd charges including ‘incitement to incite public nuisance.’
This repression is part of Xi Jinping’s overall intensely authoritarian approach. Mainland China is seeing the worst crackdown on human rights since – some say the Tiananmen massacre of 1989, others even say since the Cultural Revolution. Whereas his predecessors were generally prepared to allow Hong Kong to run its own affairs and for ‘one country, two systems’ to succeed, Xi Jinping’s mindset appears to prize control above all else – even to the detriment of the economic prosperity and institutions on which Hong Kong’s reputation has been built.
Hong Kong’s once free press, markets, law-courts and universities are being progressively drawn into the orbit of CCP control. Hong Kong is signed up to UN human rights standards, and the ICCPR is incorporated into the constitution – but this has not halted the crackdown.
I first became interested in Hong Kong when, as a young Member of Parliament in Liverpool, I came to know a Hong Kong Chinese family who invited me to Hong Kong and shared with me their own story of escape from the famine and other horrors of Mao’s Cultural Revolution.
Two years ago, I had the privilege of hosting in the House of Lords a very impressive, intelligent and courageous young man called Nathan Law, who had been elected as the youngest member of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council. As someone who was at the time the youngest member of the House of Commons – the ‘baby of the House’ – I felt a particular bond with Nathan. Us ‘babies of the House’ must stick together.
I later met his companion, the remarkable and inspirational Joshua Wong. When I heard that Nathan was disqualified from the legislature, by a court and not by the President of the legislature, simply for quoting Mahatma Gandhi after taking his oath, I was appalled. Then last year when I heard that Nathan, Joshua and their colleague Alex Chow were jailed, I knew something had gone badly wrong with Hong Kong, and that we in Britain have a responsibility to act.
For those reasons I signed on to a letter along with about 25 other international figures from the political, diplomatic and legal realms, to appeal for their release. I raised their case in the House of Lords. And when Ben asked me if I would be one of Hong Kong Watch’s five Patrons, I was delighted to accept.
Britain has specific moral and legal responsibilities to Hong Kong, under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as I am sure our Guest Speaker later tonight will also remind us. The work of Hong Kong Watch, an organization that conducts independent, critical, constructive and responsible research and advocacy to uphold, defend and strengthen Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy, as promised to Hong Kong under the Basic Law, the Sino-British Joint Declaration and the concept of ‘one country, two systems’, remains welcome, timely and much needed.
Before I conclude, it is my privilege to introduce some of the key members of Hong Kong Watch.
I am delighted to serve as a Patron alongside Catherine West, Labour Member of Parliament for Hornsey and Wood Green, who has extensive experience of China and Hong Kong and devotes so much of her attention to questions of human rights throughout Asia; Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, the barrister who led the prosecution of Slobodan Milosevic, and with whom I have been pleased to work on a range of issues including crimes against humanity in North Korea and Burma and genocide around the world; the former Foreign Secretary Sir Malcolm Rifkind, who served as Foreign Secretary for the two years leading up to the handover of Hong Kong; and Paddy Ashdown, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, who had intended to be with us tonight but very sadly is unable to do so.
The trustees of Hong Kong Watch are Dr Malte Kaeding; Aileen Calverley, Gray Sergeant and its Chairman, Benedict Rogers, whose own denial of entry to Hong Kong in October 2017 helped draw the attention of many in Parliament and the media to the erosion of Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy.
May I also give a special welcome to one other guest who, although she is not formally a Patron, is a tireless defender of human rights around the world, including the freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, the Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and Member of Parliament for Congleton, Fiona Bruce.
You are all warmly welcome. Later on in the evening we look forward to hearing from Ben about the work of Hong Kong Watch in its first year, and from our eminent keynote speaker, the last Governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten of Barnes.
For now, please enjoy the dinner – perhaps with the following words from one of my political heroes, William Wilberforce, who said when he was introducing legislation to end the slave trade words that I think, thanks in part to Hong Kong Watch, we can apply today to Hong Kong: “We can no longer plead ignorance. We cannot turn aside.”