By Jim Sillars

BRITISH decolonisation always transferred a territory to its people. Hong Kong was the exception. As I pointed out to Margaret Thatcher in 1998, the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration handed over not just territory but people to a foreign power which, by its terms, denied them a role in making Hong Kong’s Basic Law – a right reserved solely for China. Thus, along with the refusal of full British passports, the people were deprived of any leverage over Beijing, and placed in a trap.

UK ministers give the impression today that the Declaration is a tablet of stone. But it is hollow: no British monitoring rights, no consultation or intervention rights in its former colony. An international legal instrument it may be, but its terms allowed China’s policies to be translated into the Basic Law of Hong Kong in 1990, seven years before the hand-over. That date is important.

Important, because a Sino-British Joint Liaison group worked on the details of transfer from 1985 to 1999. The UK side didn’t object then (or since) to the Basic Law’s Articles 23, 18 and Annex III. Or did it? Liaison records are sealed under the 40-year rule. Perhaps an MP can seek to have them published now.

It is Article 18 and Annex III, Wang Chen, of the National People’s Congress, that was invoked last week justifying Beijing’s right to impose new laws on Hong Kong. Article 23, dealing with secession, subversion, foreign interference, and unity of the homeland, has never been activated after the Hong Kong people objected to it in 2003. It is coming now, with China’s security apparatus enforcing it.

The UK has falsely claimed that Hong Kong was guaranteed autonomy until 2047 and accuses China of a flagrant breach of that obligation. Article 18 and Annex III of the Basic Law clearly show that autonomy was always conditional and based on Hong Kong posing no threat to China’s perception of its sovereignty security or unity.

Tensions rose in 2014, in response to a Beijing decision on rules for installing the territory’s Chief Executive. Just 1,200 of the 7.3 million population were permitted to “elect” one candidate from three, to be submitted for Beijing’s approval. The young erupted, demanding democracy. China condemned their civil disobedience, claimed US involvement, but did nothing.

The next incendiary moment came in 2018 – an extradition bill that could see Hong Kong people sent to courts in China. Protests turned violent when Chief Executive Carrie Lam refused to withdraw it before being forced to suspend it. Released, the genie of frustration and fury led to vicious clashes between demonstrators and police. China’s reaction is different to that in 2014. Demonstrators have called for international help and “independence”, the very threats Article 23 was meant to prevent.

A Greek tragedy is unfolding in Hong Kong. Western encouragement to demonstrators, and US law asserting a right to monitor China’s conduct, plays into the hands of Beijing, allowing it to claim further justification for its new laws.

We do Hong Kong’s young people no favours with these tactics. Pitting Hong Kong against China is no contest – street protests against a sovereign state. The demonstrations will continue, but they will not stop China’s new laws. The future for the young protesters? Either the bitter pill of knuckling under, or seeking political asylum as refugees, elsewhere. A tragedy, rooted in a British sell -out before they were even born.