The UK has signalled it will join allies in suspending its extradition treaty with Hong Kong in the latest sign of deteriorating bilateral relations between London and Beijing.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab, who on Sunday also criticised Beijing’s “egregious human rights abuses” against its Uighur minority, plans to provide an update on extradition arrangements with Hong Kong on Monday.
This follows Beijing’s imposition of a new security law for Hong Kong and comes a week after the UK banned the 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 outline “further measures” tomorrow to the House of Commons.
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 arrangements.
Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, will meet hawkish backbench MPs from the Conservative and Labour parties this week before meeting Boris Johnson, prime minister during a visit to the UK.
Mr Raab also said that China’s treatment of the 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, which is mainly located the west of the country.
“We want a positive relationship but we cannot see behaviour like that and not call it out.”
On the extradition arrangements between Britain and Hong Kong, the government has been under pressure from Tory MPs in the anti-Beijing ‘China Research Group’ to take action. They 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 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.
Lisa Nandy, shadow foreign secretary, said “one quick and simple thing” that the UK government could do on the Uighur issue would be to impose sanctions on any Chinese government individual involved in the persecution of the group.
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, 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 that 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.”
Mr Liu added that China would issue a “resolute response” if the UK government did impose sanctions on any Chinese individuals. “You’ve seen what happened between China and the United States. They sanction Chinese officials, we sanction their officers.”
Mr Johnson confirmed plans last week 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 networks by up to three years, came after months of pressure from Washington. President Donald Trump 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 over allegations that Beijing was not fully open about the origins of the coronavirus as well as concerns about the new security law.
In turn, Beijing 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 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 denied any widespread programme of sterilisation, although he added: “I cannot rule out single cases.”