Thursday 19 November 2020 4:37 am

The British government must take a stand for freedom and democracy in Hong Kong

Alistair Carmichael is a Liberal Democrat MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong

The Chinese government’s disdain for what it calls “western values” is well-known. 

The one-party state has been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party for decades, and its litany of human rights abuses is long — and, sadly, growing. 

One of the few outposts of democracy has been in Hong Kong. But no more. 

Read more: Editorial: Those who profit in Hong Kong must speak up in its defence

Last week’s news that four democratically elected politicians in Hong Kong have been removed from office for committing the crime of being “unpatriotic” is as shocking as it is tragic. The four considered moderates are guilty only of believing in the autonomy of Hong Kong and supporting the principle of democracy.

In solidarity with these four politicians, the entire pro-democracy opposition has since resigned from the Legislative Council of Hong Kong. While this move is entirely understandable and even admirable (what self-respecting believer in democracy could remain under the circumstances?), it also sadly leaves Hong Kong’s law-making body to be controlled almost in totality by pro-Beijing forces, with no opposition worthy of the name left to stand up for those in the territory who still crave and believe in democracy.

A society ruled by one entity without opposition and with no mechanism for accountability is no longer a democratic or autonomous society. Instead, it is a dictatorship. 

This incident could have been predicted. Since the implementation of the National Security Laws in June this year, basic rights and freedoms have gradually but shockingly been eradicated throughout Hong Kong. The educational curriculum now removes all mention of democracy or protest, pro-democracy activists have been arrested in their hundreds, journalists have lost their accreditation unless they are deemed to support Beijing, and academics have lost their jobs for supporting academic freedom. 

These are just some of the many clear breaches of the Sino-British Joint Declaration that have occurred over the past year and a half. The ousting of the four democratically elected Hong Kong politicians is merely the latest breach, but it may also be the most blatant. 

The declaration is a UN recognised treaty which guarantees certain rights and freedoms to Hong Kong, of which the UK is a signatory. We have a legal responsibility to ensure it is being upheld. 

In the face of such blatant disregard for democracy, human rights and legally bound international treaties, the British government should be doing more. Now that Britain has the power to use its own Magnitsky-style sanctions, what will it take for the government to impose them on senior officials in Hong Kong who are responsible for gross human rights abuses, as well as the tyrannical takeover of the region? 

As co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Hong Kong, I call upon foreign secretary Dominic Raab to ensure that these sanctions are imposed as soon as possible. The increasingly shocking actions taken against democratic figures in Hong Kong demonstrates how urgent this is.

But for Magnitsky-style sanctions to have their fullest effect, they must be coordinated and implemented as part of an international effort. Our democratic allies worldwide must also impose sanctions on senior officials in Hong Kong, including Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Such an act of solidarity will send a clear message to Beijing that the world stands with Hong Kong and believes in the power of democracy.

China clearly believes it can abuse Hongkongers and take over the region while the rest of the world watches in silence. We must show the Chinese government that this is not the case.

The four disqualified politicians believed in the importance of democracy. So did their colleagues who resigned en masse. If we in the west believe in it too, we must work together to stand against the rising wave of totalitarianism that is threatening the freedom of Hong Kong.

Read more: Got an HSBC account? It’s time to show your support for the people of Hong Kong

Main image credit: Getty

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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