The UK reacts to China’s increased pressure on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong and its overall human rights record

22 July 2020

On Monday 20 July 2020 the UK suspended it's extradition treaty with its former colony Hong Kong, citing the imposition of controversial new security laws on the territory by China. The new law is seen to have changed the very foundation of the agreement between the two states and the treaty has been suspended "immediately and indefinitely". No consideration will be given to reactivating the treaty unless and until there are clear and robust safeguards preventing the misuse of extradition from the UK.

Canada and Australia have also suspended their extradition treaties with Hong Kong and the US is expected to follow suit in the coming days.

The UK will also extend to Hong Kong the arms embargo it has applied to mainland China since 1989. In addition to weapons and ammunition, the embargo will ban the export of any equipment, not already banned, which can be used to repress others including shackles, intercept equipment and smoke grenades. 

Beijing has not revealed the new security law in full, but summaries published by Chinese state media explain that the law criminalises secession, subversion, terrorism and colluding with foreign forces. Similar laws giving China broad powers to crack down on political crimes are used in mainland China to jail critics of the Chinese Communist Party and are obviously designed to curtail  Hong Kong’s defiance to the Chinese mainland. Whilst not in line with the Basic Law or China's international commitments, international support has unsurprisingly come from North Korea, Syria and Iran.

The effect the new law will have is not yet known, although Chinese security agencies will surely be able to operate in Hong Kong itself. Some reports have suggested that the law, which may be applied retrospectively criminalising acts that are now legal, will be used amongst other things to send some cases for trial to mainland China where the courts have a 99% conviction rate; and for “special” detention centres to be used for those arrested under the law. With China’s record of human rights abuses both these are of major concern to the UK.

The Chinese government has denounced these efforts as outside interference in its internal affairs to which it would “resolutely respond”, adding that the UK would bear the consequences. In response the UK government stressed that it still wants a "positive relationship" with China, adding that there are many areas in which the countries can work together for mutual benefit. This statement will no doubt fall on deaf ears coming only one week after the government reversed its decision to allow Huawei to play a limited role in establishing Britain's 5G high-speed wireless network.

Update - 3 August 2020

On 30 July the Government of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region issued notices for the suspension of agreements on mutual assistance in criminal matters to the Canadian, Australian and UK consulates. This appears to be a reaction to the unilateral decisions of those three states to suspend their agreements with Hong Kong on the surrender of fugitive offenders following the enactment of the National Security Law in Hong Kong.

The UK’s suspension of the extradition treaty will no doubt further sour relations with China.

Further information

For further information on the issues raised in this blog post, please contact a member of our criminal litigation team.


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