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Great Britain

China threatening autonomy of Hong Kong, says Chris Patten

Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong, has warned that China’s threat to overrule the Hong Kong judiciary represents a dramatic threat to the autonomy of the region and may damage its chances of remaining a thriving financial centre.

Patten called on the British government to speak out as soon as possible to express its concern at the Chinese remarks, which followed the overturning by Hong Kong courts of a ban on protesters wearing face masks, a move that infuriated Beijing.

China claimed that the status of Hong Kong’s laws with the Basic Law governing relations between Hong Kong and China could only be judged and decided by China’s Congress.

A spokesman for the National People’s Congress (NPC) legislative affairs commission said: “No other authority has the right to make judgments and decisions.”

Patten said in a letter to the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab: “The Chinese statement was in complete breach of the Sino-British joint declaration, which states that: ‘The Hong Kong special administrative region will be vested with executive, legislative and independent judicial power, including that of final adjudication.’” The declaration was partly negotiated by Patten.

Timeline

Hong Kong protests

A new Hong Kong extradition law is proposed, which would allow people to be transferred to mainland China for a variety of crimes. Residents fear it could lead to politically motivated extraditions into China's much harsher judicial system.

Large public demonstrations start as thousands march in the streets to protest against the extradition bill.

Hong Kong's leader, Carrie Lam, introduces concessions to the extradition bill, including limiting the scope of extraditable offences, but critics say they are not enough.

The scale of protests continues to increase as more than half a million people take to the streets. Police use rubber bullets and teargas against the biggest protests Hong Kong has seen for decades.

Lam says the proposed extradition law has been postponed indefinitely.

The protests continue as demonstrators storm the Legislative Council, destroying pictures, daubing graffiti on the walls and flying the old flag of Hong Kong emblazoned with the British union flag. The protests coincide with the 22nd anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong from the UK back to China.

Armed men in white T-shirts thought to be supporting the Chinese government attack passengers and passers-by in Yuen Long metro station, while nearby police take no action.

44 protesters are charged with rioting, which further antagonises the anti-extradition bill movement.

By now the protest movement has coalesced around five key demands: complete withdrawal of the proposed extradition bill, withdrawal of the use of the word "riot" in relation to the protests, unconditional release of arrested protesters and charges against them dropped, an independent inquiry into police behaviour and the implementation of genuine universal suffrage.

The first charges are brought against protesters for covering their faces, after authorities bring in new laws banning face masks in order to make it easier to identify or detain protesters.

Chan Tong-kai, the murder suspect whose case prompted the original extradition bill is released from prison, saying that he is willing to surrender himself to Taiwan. The extradition bill is also formally withdrawn, a key demand of protesters.

Chow Tsz-lok, 22, becomes the first fatality of the protests. Chow, a computer science student at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (HKUST), was found injured in a car park in Tseung Kwan O in Kowloon, where he was believed to have fallen one storey. Protesters had been trying to disrupt a police officer’s wedding, which was being held in the area. A week later a 70-year-old cleaner who is thought to have been hit by a brick during a clash between protesters and pro-Beijing residents becomes the second person to die.

He added: “The NPC’s statement could seriously undermine judicial independence and the rule of law in Hong Kong.

“If the rule of law and autonomy are threatened, Hong Kong’s success as one of the world’s most important international financial and trading centres is at risk.”

Patten pointed out that in 1996, a year before the handover, the then prime minister Sir John Major had said 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”.

The former foreign secretary, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, also warned that the NPC statement was “a naked power grab by the central government from the Hong Kong judiciary, and is clearly in breach of both existing Hong Kong case law and the terms of the Sino-British joint declaration”.

The British protests came as Republicans in Washington predicted that Donald Trump will sign a bill passed by Congress this week that could open the way to fresh sanctions by the US against China.

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