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Dominic Raab has announced he has immediately suspended the UK’s extradition treaty with Hong Kong, amid rising tensions with China.
The foreign secretary made the move in response to the imposition of a tough new national security law by Beijing which restricts civil liberties in Hong Kong.
The UK has said it violates the Sino-British Joint Declaration which was supposed to guarantee Hong Kong’s way of life for 50 years after the handover of the former British colony in 1997.
Scrapping the extradition treaty would prevent China from asking the UK to return any Hong Kong dissidents who have fled to Britain.
Raab also told MPs an arms embargo on China will be extended to Hong Kong.
“Let me be really clear about this – we want to work with China,” he said.
“But as we strive for that positive relationship, we are also clear sighted about the challenges that lie ahead.”
The UK has already offered a path to citizenship for three million Hong Kong residents eligible for British National (Overseas) passports – a move that enraged China.
Boris Johnson earlier today said he would be “tough” with China in some areas but would not “completely abandon our policy of engagement”.
“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,” he said.
“There is a balance here. I’m not going to be pushed into a position of becoming a knee-jerk Sinophobe on every issue, somebody who is automatically anti-China.
“But we do have serious concerns. We have concerns about the treatment of the Uyghur minority, obviously – about the human rights abuses.”
Yesterday Raab also accused Beijing of committing “gross, egregious human rights abuses” against the country’s Uighur population in the north-western Xinjiang province.
The Chinese ambassador to London, Liu Xiaoming, told the BBC the UK was “dancing to the tune” of the US and accused Western countries of trying to foment a “new cold war”.
In the combative interview he also refused to explain drone footage of people handcuffed and blindfolded in China.
Beijing was already smarting over the UK’s decision last week to exclude the tech giant Huawei from the UK’s 5G network – reversing a decision in January allowing it a limited role.
It has been reported that in response Chinese-owned TikTok could scrap plans to open a global headquarters in Britain.