The UK suspended its extradition treaty with Hong Kong “immediately and indefinitely” on Monday as UK-China relations continued to deteriorate following Beijing’s move to implement a sweeping new security law for the territory.
UK foreign secretary Dominic Raab also announced the UK’s arms embargo against China, imposed following Beijing’s 1989 massacre of pro-democracy protesters in Tiananmen Square, would now be extended to Hong Kong.
The move follows pressure from MPs to suspend the treaty amid fears the new security law imposed on the territory could be used by Beijing to demand the extradition of anyone who criticises the communist regime.
The UK has criticised the legislation — under which terrorism, subversion and collusion with foreign elements attract penalties of up to life imprisonment — for undermining the freedoms that China had promised to Hong Kong.
Mr Raab told MPs the extended arms embargo would block exports of potentially lethal weapons and equipment such as firearms and smoke grenades, which could be used for “internal repression”.
He told the Commons the UK “wants a positive relationship” with China, but that the measures were a “reasonable and proportionate response” to China’s “failure” to live up to international obligations.
“There remains considerable uncertainty about the way in which the new national security law will be enforced,” he said. “I would just say this: the UK is watching and the whole world is watching.”
Speaking to reporters in Beijing on Monday before Mr Raab’s statement, China foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin accused the UK of “brutal” meddling in China’s internal affairs and urged the British government to halt its “wrong words and actions”.
Earlier on Monday, UK prime minister Boris Johnson vowed to be “tough” with Beijing but added that the government would not “completely abandon our policy of engagement” with China. His remarks came a week after the UK banned the Chinese telecoms company Huawei as a long-term supplier for its 5G networks.
The issue of Hong Kong is expected to be prominent when Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, visits London on Tuesday for meetings with Mr Johnson and Mr Raab.
He will meet backbench MPs from the Conservative and Labour parties before meeting Labour leader Keir Starmer, according to UK officials.
Members of the China Research Group of Tory MPs said Mr Pompeo was in London to forge “new alliances” with British politicians and was expected to praise Mr Johnson for his decision last week to instruct telecoms operators to remove Huawei technology from their 5G mobile networks by 2027.
Washington has repeatedly warned that a UK decision to use Huawei for 5G kit would jeopardise intelligence relationships.
Speaking in advance of his London visit, Mr Pompeo said he was “sure that the Chinese Communist party and its threat to free peoples around the world will be high on top of that agenda”.
He said he would “certainly” take time to discuss what he labelled last week as the UK’s “commendable decision” on Huawei.
“The UK joins the United States and now many other democracies in becoming ‘Clean Countries’ — nations free of untrusted 5G vendors,” he told reporters.
The Trump administration has taken an increasingly belligerent stance against China this year as the two powers have traded barbs and narratives over coronavirus. Mr Pompeo has spent the past weeks arguing that it is China rather than the US that is forcing countries to choose whether they ally to Beijing or Washington.
Urging the need to strike a “balance” on Monday, Mr Johnson insisted he was not going to be “pushed into a position of becoming a knee-jerk Sinophobe on every issue, somebody who is automatically anti-China”.
He added: “China is a giant factor of geopolitics, it’s going to be a giant factor in our lives and in the lives of our children and grandchildren. You have got to have a calibrated response and we are going to be tough on some things but also going to continue to engage.”