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On 23 January this year, the House of Commons held a debate on Hong Kong. The following day, the House of Lords introduced their own oral question. Both debates were timely, and much-needed.

Last year marked the twentieth anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China. Under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, both Britain and China have obligations to Hong Kong for the first fifty years following the handover. Britain’s role is to monitor, and speak out in defence of the freedoms, human rights and the rule of law, set out in the Basic Law, and to ensure that China respects Hong Kong’s autonomy; creating the concept of ‘one country, two systems’.

For the first 15 years after the handover China largely honoured the bargain. However, in the last five years Hong Kong’s basic freedoms have been increasingly eroded.

A catalogue of examples illustrate this.

In 2014, China reneged on its promise of universal suffrage in elections for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, causing the police to crack down on thousands of peaceful protesters and jailing several leaders in what became known as the ‘Umbrella Movement’.

In 2015, five Hong Kong-based publishers, including British citizen Lee Bo, were abducted for publishing books critical of the Chinese leadership. Four have since been released, but one – Swedish national Gui Minhai – remains in custody in China.

Hong Kong’s former Chief Secretary, Anson Chan, and the founder of Hong Kong’s Democratic Party, Martin Lee, concluded that “none of us is safe”, and there was a direct violation of the Joint Declaration which guaranteed that “no Hong Kong resident would have to fear a midnight knock on the door”.

Last year a court disqualified six elected legislators for failing to take their oaths properly. Nathan Law, the youngest ever elected legislator in Hong Kong, took his oath properly but was disqualified for citing Mahatma Gandhi. These legislators are now facing demands to repay salaries and expenses which they legitimately earned as legislators.

Just before Christmas the Legislative Council introduced procedural changes which weaken legislators’ powers. The Hong Kong government will, on Beijing’s orders, introduce a new “anti-subversion” law restricting freedom of expression, and a law criminalizing disrespect of China’s national anthem, with a penalty of up to three years in prison.

China is now preparing to impose mainland law at the new high-speed rail terminus in Hong Kong. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee decided that this was constitutional, usurping the courts which have exclusive rights to adjudicate such cases. The Hong Kong Bar Association is “appalled” by this decision, which “severely undermines public confidence in ‘one country, two systems’ and the rule of law in Hong Kong.”

To sum up the picture, the former Secretary-General of the Hong Kong Christian Council, Po Kam-cheong, claimed that China was “gradually devouring ‘one country, two systems”. Alarmingly, he added, “I couldn’t imagine either that 40 years after the death of Mao Zedong … the spectre of the Cultural Revolution would re-emerge.”

In the face of this, Britain appears to be beginning to step up to its responsibilities: Last September’s biannual Hong-Kong report to Parliament was more robust, contrasting what Hong Kong’s last Governor Chris Patten has called previous “fairly neutral … and rather anodyne” reports.

Last October, I found myself at the centre of an international media row, as I was declared “a threat to [China’s] sovereignty, safety and interests”, simply because I wanted to have tea with some friends and listen to their perspectives. I found the British government’s response  encouraging – the Foreign Secretary issued a statement, the Chinese ambassador was summoned to the Foreign Office, and  Mark Field MP, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, wrote to Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam. In the House of Commons debate on 23 January, he repeated Britain’s commitment to the Joint Declaration and asserted “one country, two systems” is “absolute” and unequivocal”. He added that “if the people of Hong Kong… are to continue to have confidence in ‘one country, two systems’, it is vital that the high degree of autonomy and the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Basic Law and guaranteed under international law by the Joint Declaration are respected… Let me make it clear. Maintaining confidence in ‘one country, two systems’ and the rule of law is crucial for Hong Kong and China’s own interests… [and] will only flourish if the peoples enjoy the freedoms and safeguards that will ensure the promotion of their talents and enterprise.”

Such language, even if a little overdue, is very welcome.

In 1995, Prime Minister Sir John Major told the people of Hong Kong that “if there were any suggestion of a breach of the Joint Declaration, we would have a duty to pursue every legal and other avenue available to us.” He promised that: “Hong Kong will never have to walk alone.” Britain has, as Chris Patten said, “a right and a moral obligation to continue to check on whether China is keeping its side of the bargain” – and risks “selling its honour” if it fails to do so. Courageous Hong Kong pro-democracy leaders such as Anson Chan and Martin Lee have also advocated the need for the UK to speak up forcefully in defence of the rights and freedoms that distinguish Hong Kong so sharply from the rest of China. “If it does not lead, then the future of ‘one country, two systems’ is at best troubled and at worst doomed.” Britain’s responsibility is clear. It must not be shirked, and the recent indications from the British government are that it is starting to be taken seriously.

Benedict Rogers is co-founder and Chair of Hong Kong Watch, and deputy chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. The views expressed in this article are those of the author, not necessarily those of Bright Blue.