Nathan Law, one of the key leaders of Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement, indicated yesterday that he opted for exile in London after fleeing the former UK colony because the British government had become more assertive in its approach to China.
Mr Law told MPs and peers that he would use his UK base to help construct a “more cohesive and united front” within the international community to hold China to account over its hardline approach to human rights in the troubled territory. He called for sanctions against Beijing and its officials.
It had been tough to leave behind his colleagues in the movement when he flew out, he told the all-party parliamentary group on Hong Kong. But they had agreed a new strategy to open a new front in the campaign. His role now was to work abroad to co-ordinate political action.
Mr Law, an MP in Hong Kong’s legislative council at just 23, before he was disqualified, said in yesterday’s webinar: “It was a painful decision to leave. I had to leave my family and friends. I could be named a traitor in my absence.
“But I had to leave to preserve a previous voice on the international stage. This is about more than my personal consideration. I have a very great case to present and pursue. I hope my presence here will mean a more united and cohesive front against China.”
Mr Law, sentenced to eight months in prison three years ago, praised the UK for reversing on security grounds its decision to allow the Chinese telecoms giant Huawei to participate in the building of its new 5G network. He wrote on Twitter yesterday: “The world should know that these mega Chinese state companies serve the interest of the Chinese Communist party.”
Mr Law, who planned to stand in September’s Legislative Council elections in Hong Kong had he stayed, praised the UK’s more assertive stance. It was a historic time to be here.
China imposed its controversial national security law two weeks ago, cracking down on dissent in Hong Kong. It means that even the mildest protests punishable can carry heavy prison sentences.
The British government says it flouts the ‘one country two system deal’ agreed when the UK handed the territory back to China in 1997. The US strongly backs the British position.
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, this month outlined a plan which would allow up to three million people from Hong Kong effectively to settle in the UK. Those who hold or are eligible for the British National (Overseas) Passport will be able to apply for residency under the scheme. It was prompted by China’s decision to impose the new laws, and Mr Raab’s move infuriated Beijing.
Mr Law called on the British government to look at ways of extending residency to the hundreds of thousands of young demonstrators. The passport offer only applies to those born before the handover, so excluded those under the age of 23. The Foreign Office estimates uptake of the current offer will be around 200,000.
Although he left Hong Kong on July 2, Mr Law revealed that he was in London only on Monday, his 27th birthday. Among the prominent members of the pro-democracy movement left behind are Joshua Wong, who founded with him the Demosisto pro-democracy grouping, wound up when Beijing imposed the new hardline legislation.
He called on the west to impose sanctions on China and individual officials. The UK last week unveiled a sanctions regime targeting individuals in Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and North Korea. Although there have been calls for Carrie Lam, the Hong Kong chief executive, to be similarly targeted, no Chinese players yet figure on such a list. “The international community has to hold China accountable,” said Mr Law.