The UK has signalled it will join allies in suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong over China’s imposition of a new security law for the territory
The move came as the UK foreign secretary criticised Beijing’s “egregious human rights abuses” against its Uighur minority, in the latest sign of deteriorating bilateral relations.
Dominic Raab said on Sunday he would update the House of Commons on Monday on the UK’s extradition arrangements with Hong Kong — a week after the UK banned Chinese telecoms company Huawei as a long-term supplier for its 5G networks over concerns about the security of its infrastructure.
Mr Raab said he had promised on July 1 to conduct a review of the extradition arrangements and, having completed that study, was now poised to update the Commons on those “further measures” tomorrow.
The government has been under pressure to take action from Tory MPs in the anti-Beijing “China Research Group” who have warned that the security law could be used by China to demand the extradition of anyone who criticises the communist regime.
The group wrote to Mr Raab at the weekend demanding the suspension of the agreement, saying that Beijing’s imposition of the security law on Hong Kong changed the civil rights of its citizens. “We are all going to have to ask ourselves if we recognise the Chinese Communist party’s definitions of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion, and share the interpretation of mainland judges,” the group said.
Members of the western “Five Eyes” security alliance are in effect co-ordinating policy on the issue. Canada and Australia have already suspended extradition agreements with Hong Kong while the US and New Zealand are reviewing their arrangements.
One UK government official the countries were effectively acting in a co-ordinated way.
Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, will hold a meeting with members of the CRG on Tuesday before meeting prime minister Boris Johnson during a visit to the UK.
Mr Raab also said that China’s treatment of the minority Uighur people was “deeply troubling”.
“It is clear that there are gross egregious human rights abuses going on,” he said, pointing out that at the UN Human Rights Council this month the UK had joined more than two-dozen nations in criticising China for the first time for its policy towards the group from the west of the country.
“We want a positive relationship but we cannot see behaviour like that and not call it out,” Mr Raab said.
Lisa Nandy, shadow foreign secretary, said “one quick and simple thing” that the UK government could do would be to impose sanctions on any Chinese government individual involved in the persecution of the Uighurs.
But Mr Raab played down the idea that London could use its new Magnitsky act to do that. “It’s not quite right that we can willy-nilly decide on sanctions on x or y,” he told the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show. “We have to . . . build up an evidence base and that takes a long time too.”
Meanwhile the Chinese ambassador warned the UK that its decision on Huawei was a “dark day” that would diminish its place in the world.
There was “no hard solid evidence” to suggest that Huawei was a risk, Liu Xiaoming told the BBC said, pointing out that the company had been operating in Britain for 23 years.
Mr Liu refused to answer directly whether Beijing would retaliate against British companies in its domestic market. “We do not want to politicise the economy,” he replied. However, he signalled China would respond.
“It’s western countries led by the United States, they started this new so-called cold war on China,” Mr Liu said. “We do not provoke. But once we are provoked, we have to make a response.”
Prime minister Boris Johnson last week confirmed plans to ban the Chinese telecoms operator as a supplier while also ordering domestic companies to remove Huawei technology from their systems by 2027.
That move, which could delay the rollout of 5G phone networks by up to three years, came after months of pressure from Washington. Donald Trump, the US president, had urged the prime minister to kick Huawei out of the UK on security grounds.
The announcement was a U-turn, given that six months earlier Mr Johnson had agreed to allow the company a share of up to 35 per cent in the UK’s 5G market.
Bilateral relations have cooled rapidly in recent months over allegations that Beijing was not fully open about the origins of the coronavirus as well as concerns about the new national security law in Hong Kong.
In turn, the Chinese government is angry about the UK’s decision to grant a path to citizenship to any of Hong Kong’s 3m people who are eligible to apply for a British National Overseas passport.
Mr Liu defended the new Hong Kong legislation, saying it was the responsibility of central government to “take care of security” amid widespread disorder. “Any responsible government had to take control of the situation,” he said.
The ambassador, shown video footage of shaven-headed, kneeling prisoners at a train station — believed to be Uighurs in Xinjiang province — replied: “I do not know where you got this videotape. Sometimes you get a transfer of prisoners, in any country.”
He also insisted that there was no widespread programme of sterilisation in the province, although he added: “I cannot rule out single cases.”