London: The U.K. suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong and placed it under an arms embargo in moves likely to significantly exacerbate a diplomatic spat with China after it imposed a new security law on the former British colony.
The moves are “a necessary and proportionate response,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told the House of Commons on Monday. The suspension will stay “unless or until there are clear, robust safeguards which are able to prevent extraditions from the U.K. being misused under the new national security legislation,” he said.
Though halting the extradition pact and suspending arms sales is largely symbolic, it marks the latest condemnation by Boris Johnson’s government of Chinese conduct in Hong Kong, and will trigger anger in Beijing. It comes less than a week after the U.K. banned China’s Huawei Technologies Co. from next-generation wireless networks on security grounds and follows London’s invitation to as many as 3 million Hong Kongers to apply for British citizenship.
“This embargo means there will be no export of weapons from the U.K. to Hong Kong of potentially lethal weapons and ammunition,” Raab said. “It will also mean a ban on any equipment, not already banned, that might be used for internal repression such as shackles, intercept equipment, firearms and smoke grenades.”
Speaking to reporters in Beijing on Monday before Raab’s statement, Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused the U.K. of “brutal” meddling in China’s internal affairs and urged the British government to halt its “wrong words and actions.”
The diplomatic row with China has come at an inopportune time for Johnson, who is trying to reset the U.K.’s ties with the rest of the world after divorce from the European Union this year. His government wants to secure free-trade deals with countries around the world as it seeks to deliver the benefits it promised from Brexit.
But the prime minister is facing extreme pressure on his China policy both from lawmakers in his own Conservative Party and from overseas, especially U.S. President Donald Trump.
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It was the Trump administration’s sanctions on Huawei that finally led to the U.K. banning the company from its 5G networks. That followed repeated warnings from Washington., which is embroiled in a long-running trade stand-off with Beijing, that it would halt intelligence-sharing if London didn’t fall into line.
The pressure from the U.S. is unrelenting. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo visits London this week to meet Raab and U.K. lawmakers to discuss a range of topics, including “the fact that China now concerns everyone,” Conservative lawmaker Bob Seely said in an interview.
Meanwhile a growing number of Tory MPs, like Seely, are pressuring Johnson to rethink the U.K.’s relationship with China over its behavior in Hong Kong, reports of human rights abuses in Xinjiang and its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
They’re clearly influencing government. In a Sky News interview on Sunday, Raab was asked if the U.K. and China still enjoy a “golden era” of diplomatic relations — a term coined just five years ago by then Prime Minister David Cameron.
“It’s not a phrase I would use,” Raab said.
Chinese officials have also warned of the consequences for the U.K. if it treats China as a “hostile” partner. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said last week that the U.K. government has a choice: “Will it remain independent or will it become a catspaw for the U.S.?”
Johnson told broadcasters on Monday he wants a “calibrated” policy toward China and won’t be pushed into being a “knee-jerk Sinophobe on every issue.” Britain is concerned about Hong Kong and the “rights of the people of Hong Kong to participate in democratic processes,” he said.
According to U.K. Home Office figures, between 2016 and 2019 there were only two extraditions completed from Hong Kong to the U.K. and none in the opposite direction. Between 2010 and 2015 there was one extradition from the U.K. to Hong Kong, and one the other way.
“China is a giant fact of geopolitics; it’s going to be a giant factor in our lives in the lives of our children and our grandchildren,” Johnson said. “So we’ve got to have a calibrated response and we’re going to be tough on some things, but also we’re going to continue to engage.” –Bloomberg
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