ONE COUNTRY ONE SYSTEM

Beijing is breaking the law in Hong Kong, and its pledges to Britain, the UK says

Gray skies.
Gray skies.
Image: Reuters/Bobby Yip
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The strange case of Hong Kong’s disappearing booksellers, who went missing ahead of the publication of books critical of Chinese president Xi Jinping, has raised global concerns about free speech and rule of law in the Asian financial capital.

Now, the British government has weighed in with its strongest statement yet, criticizing Beijing for failing to follow the “Basic Law” agreed when the British agreed to hand Hong Kong back to China. Britain’s foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, wrote that he is “particularly concerned” about the disappearance of Lee Bo, a UK citizen who went missing late last year, in the biannual review of the state of Hong Kong published on Feb. 12:

The full facts of the case remain unclear, but our current information indicates that Mr Lee was involuntarily removed to the mainland without any due process under Hong Kong SAR law. This constitutes a serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and undermines the principle of “One Country, Two Systems.”

Beijing has not yet responded to the criticism, and it is unclear

what influence, if any

, the UK government has on how Beijing deals with Hong Kong, or with the city’s

increasingly angry

population. The declaration signed by the UK and China before the handover has no specific provisions if it is breached, and strengthening the economic ties between China and the UK has been a clear goal of UK prime minister David Cameron.

Still, Hong Kong remains important to Britain because of the continued ties British companies—in particular, banks—have in the city, as the report points out. There are over 600 UK companies with offices in Hong Kong and 3.7 million British passport holders living there. Overall, UK investment in the city around a third of total British investment in Asia.