British Rights Report on China, Hong Kong 'Too Little, Too Late'

china-hongkong-06292016.jpg Bookseller Lam Wing-Kee (C), who was detained for eight months on the mainland, arrives outside Wanchai police station with local lawmaker James To (L) in Hong Kong, June 29, 2016.

A report from the U.K.'s ruling Conservative Party detailing a sharp deterioration in China's human rights record since President Xi Jinping came to power is too little, too late, activists and political analysts said on Wednesday.

The 68-page report, titled "The Darkest Moment. The Crackdown on Human Rights in China 2013-16," highlighted a series of crackdowns on political dissidents, religious minorities, rights lawyers and academics.

It also hit out at the detention by Chinese police of five Hong Kong booksellers for selling "banned books" on Chinese leaders to mail-order customers across the internal immigration border in mainland China.

"Precious rights and freedoms guaranteed under ‘one country, two systems’, such as freedom of the press, of publication and of academic thought, are being chipped away," the report cited a submission by former second-in-command Anson Chan and Democratic Party founder Martin Lee as saying.

"Hong Kong’s young people who have grown up under the ‘one country, two systems’ model are convinced that Hong Kong is dying," Victoria Hui of Notre Dame University was quoted as saying.

Under the terms of its 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was promised that it could keep its traditional freedoms and separate legal jurisdiction for 50 years, known as "one country, two systems."

The report also slammed China's use of televised "confessions" made by detainees before their trials, and over an ongoing crackdown on Christian churches and the widespread demolition of crosses.

But Dixon Sing, associate professor of social science at Hong Kong's University of Science and Technology said last week's referendum vote to leave the European Union would make Britain far less likely to confront China on human rights in the foreseeable future.

"I am very doubtful that the U.K. will sacrifice economic interests in order to confront China over its human rights records," Sing said.

"The economic consequences of Britain leaving the European Union are still unknown, and I don't foresee any major changes in its China policy," he said.

Former student democracy leader and Demosisto chairman Nathan Law said there had been scant support from the U.K. government during the 2014 Occupy Central campaign for fully democratic elections, and the latest report from the Conservative Party was unlikely to have much of an impact.

"To be honest, there isn't much hope that this report will change anything, but at least it is an international voice," Law said.

"A lot of countries are are beginning to have serious doubts about the implementation of both the [1984] Sino-British Joint Declaration and the one country, two systems policy," he said.

"The Hong Kong government should think about that very carefully."

Conservative Party rights activist Benedict Rogers called on the U.K. to 'act' on the report, which had the support of the last colonial governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten.

"The report is a damning review of the overall severe deterioration in the human rights situation in China," Rogers wrote in a blog post for the Huffington Post.

All contributors to the report had argued that the ‘one country, two systems’ principle established for Hong Kong’s return to Chinese rule, "is under severe threat today," he said.

Hong Kong political analyst Camoes Tam said the U.K. has the right to comment on China's implementation of the Joint Declaration until its expiry in 2047.

"I think it's very clear that a number of recent human rights issues, including the prosecution of Joshua Wong, and the Causeway Bay booksellers, have involved a violation of the one country, two systems principle," Tam said.

Citizen journalists threatened

Back in mainland China, Sichuan-based rights activist Huang Qi, who founded the Tianwang rights website, said such reports pay too much attention to dissident intellectuals and not enough to grassroots campaigners trying to protect their rights.

"An attempt to oversee the human rights situation in China has to come from petitioners and rural communities who have lost their land, because they make up about 90 percent of human rights cases," Huang said.

"Only then will we get an objective and realistic record of the human rights situation in China."

But he said citizen journalists, the people most likely to publicize such cases via social media, are increasing being targeted by the government.

"There have been a large number of citizen journalists sent to jail across China, according to our knowledge," Huang said.

Hong Kong will mark the 19th anniversary of its return to Chinese rule on Friday, and the city's government, which many accuse of unnecessary "kowtowing" to Beijing, has put up posters on the streets to remind the public of the need to commemorate the special day.

The government will lay on a now-traditional fireworks display, while pro-Beijing groups are planning a carnival and public rally.

"The government, together with its loyalists, is embarking on a public relations campaign to whip up a celebratory mood for July 1, but not many people are buying into the hype," the Hong Kong Economic Journal said in a commentary on Wednesday.

"The public’s apathy is not surprising given the unhappiness with the city’s current leadership, lack of electoral reforms and the perceived erosion of the core principles of 'one country, two systems'," the article said.

Reported by Hai Nan for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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