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British Parliament Debates UK-China Relations: Discussed Hong Kong, Jimmy Lai, and Sanction Policies

16 March 2023 – Today, the British Parliament held a debate about UK-China relations to mark ten years since Xi Jinping became the leader of the People’s Republic of China. Led by Member of Parliament (MP) Jim Shannon, MPs from five different political parties took part in the debate.

MPs exposed how China under Xi’s reign and the increasingly aggressive Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has undergone massive internal upheavals and developed an aggressive foreign policy around the world. This includes the CCP’s imposition of the National Security Law (NSL) and ongoing political crackdown in Hong Kong. Margaret Ferrier MP [Scottish National Party], said, “There is lack of transparency and a lack of access to lawyers under the NSL. Ministers should be seeking further clarity regarding reality under the law." Parliamentarians also questioned why the British government has yet to sanction Hong Kong officials who have misused the National Security Law to suppress peaceful protests and memorials as well as the free press. The MPs at the debate also demanded that the UK place pressure on the CCP to immediately release British citizen, Jimmy Lai, who has been imprisoned for 807 days under NSL charges.

Catherine West MP, Shadow Foreign Minister for Asia and the Pacific, and Tim Loughton MP, Home Affairs Select Committee member, highlighted the UK government’s failure to take action to address the severity of China’s threat to the rest of the world. Catherine West MP said, “Only today did the government announce their TikTok ban, behind our allies again, behind the curb once again." Tim Loughton MP added, “In China, the Western version of TikTok is banned and the algorithms used for TikTok here are illegal.”

Parliamentarians also raised concern regarding the CCP’s show trial of the Hong Kong 47, systematic abuse of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang, the ongoing repression in Tibet, and Xi Jinping's personal mission to "reunify" Taiwan. Parliamentarians urged the UK government to eliminate the pervasive influence of Confucius Institutes on British university campuses and to investigate and shut illegal Chinese police stations.

Responding for the UK government was the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Europe, Leo Docherty, who defended the UK government's position towards China. However, he refused to respond to questions about the ongoing imprisonment of British citizen Jimmy Lai.

This debate comes one day after the United Nations Human Rights Council held a session in which they examined the case of Jimmy Lai and the Hong Kong authorities’ crimes under international law. Next week, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Hong Kong will hold a hearing where they consider media freedom in Hong Kong and raise the case of Jimmy Lai and Apple Daily.

Jim Shannon, Member of Parliament from Northern Ireland and convener of the debate, said:

“The National Security Law (NSL) criminalises any act of dissent that the government considers secession, subversion, terrorism, or collusion with foreign forces. Rather than use the law to protect people, it is used to censor people. Journalists have been arrested and accused under NSL charges. The Law has been used to crush media freedom, including closing Apple Daily, the most popular newspaper in Hong Kong. The police sentenced its former owner Jimmy Lai, and his NSL trial has been delayed by Hong Kong authorities. The UK must do more for Jimmy Lai.”

Mark Sabah, the Committee for Freedom in Hong Kong (CFHK) Foundation’s Director of the UK & EU, said:

“I am delighted that this debate took place. We have been waiting a long time for the British Parliament to discuss the critical issues that are taking place in China. It is vital that the UK government takes a closer look at what is going on within UK-China relations, as the Chinese Communist Party poses a serious threat as they continue to politically suppress their own citizens in the Chinese mainland, Hong Kongers, and many others around the world.”

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