Friday 4 June 2021 6:30 am

Foreigners' flight from Hong Kong means Britain must step up even more

Earlier this month, a survey by The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong found that 42 per cent of foreigners were planning or considering leaving the city, with more than half citing fears over the draconian national security law imposed by China last year. 

However on Tuesday, Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam brushed aside those concerns, claiming that it was business as usual in the territory, and that one has to look at “what is actually happening on the ground.”

So, let’s take a look at what’s been happening on the ground in Hong Kong. 

Read more: Hong Kong visa applications to the UK in 2021 hits 34,300

Since early 2019, widescale – and largely peaceful – protests against plans to introduce extradition to mainland China – which risked exposing Hongkongers to Beijing’s systemic malpractice of unfair trials, torture and abuse in detention – were met by an unprecedented show of police brutality and violence in Hong Kong.

As Human Rights Watch has recorded, police officers “were seen beating, pepper-spraying and tear-gassing people, including those subdued on the ground; shooting and blinding several, including a journalist; unnecessarily tackling demonstrators to the ground, including pregnant women, children and older people; and then giving patently improbable and outright false explanations about their actions in press conferences.” An Amnesty International field investigation has also revealed the “exclusive evidence of torture and other ill-treatment” of protesters in detention and has demanded an independent investigation into the violations. 

Though the planned Extradition Bill was suspended indefinitely and eventually withdrawn under the weight of mass demonstrations, the following year, Beijing bit back with a vengeance. In June 2020, China imposed the much-reviled national security law, upending the internationally recognised Sino-British Joint Declaration that guaranteed the autonomy of Hong Kong and the rights of its people, and shrouded the city under a cloud of repression.

The law, which carries punishment up to life imprisonment, is purposely imprecise in nature and ambiguous in interpretation, criminalising secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces – but failing to express what acts might constitute such an offence. It is also framed to reach far beyond Hong Kong’s borders, claiming to apply to any individual, anywhere in the world. 

Under the auspices of the law, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and its lackey regime in Hong Kong have moved quickly to silence even the faintest whispers of dissent, arresting at least 100 people so far, including 55 pro-democracy activists and politicians in dawn raids – 47 of whom have been charged with “subversion” under the false pretence of stability.  

As Chair and Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hong Kong, we reiterate our call on the UK government to do more to support the people of Hong Kong in turning the tide against this new era of authoritarian rule. 

The government’s British National (Overseas) visa scheme and £43 million integration programme for the resettlement of fleeing Hongkongers are vital, welcome steps. However, in order to check the worst impulses of the CCP and revive Hong Kong’s tradition of democracy and respect for human rights, we can and must do more, starting with the imposition of Magnitsky-style sanctions on Hong Kong officials complicit in human rights abuses.

As officers of this cross-party group, we also call on the business community to demonstrate moral leadership and exercise social responsibility, and we encourage divestment from arrangements that further the cause of oppression in Hong Kong.

Two of the most widely-used banks in the UK – HSBC and Standard Chartered – have voiced their support for the national security law, with the former freezing the accounts of several pro-democracy supporters, including exiled Hong Kong politician Ted Hui.

We believe that these banks’ support of the brutal national security law is fundamentally unethical, and we continue to urge investors to end their involvement with these banks for the sake of all Hongkongers fighting for their freedom and human rights.

Read more: HSBC and Citibank bankers threatened with prison if they deal with billionaire Jimmy Lai’s accounts

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