Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt welcomed a decision by the Hong Kong government to suspend a proposed law that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China for trial.
Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” principle, with the guarantee of a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed elsewhere in China.
“Well done HK Government for heeding concerns of the brave citizens who have stood up for their human rights,” Hunt said on Twitter. “Safeguarding the rights and freedoms in the Sino-British Joint Declaration is the best future for HK and Britain stands behind this legally-binding agreement.”
Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, was forced into a concession after a week of mass protests, promising to indefinitely suspend efforts to pass a controversial new extradition law ahead of another demonstration that has been called for Sunday.
Lam’s announcement represented perhaps the most serious government climb-down in the face of public pressure since a security law was dropped in 2003, an important democratic moment for a city where people are free to demonstrate but not able to choose their leaders.
However, opponents warned they saw it more as a tactical retreat than an admission of defeat, aimed at buying time to intimidate or demoralise opponents. There have already been reports of arrests in hospitals, as people sought treatment, and of digital activists.
Several hundred thousand people had jammed Hong Kong’s streets in the last week in a bid to thwart the proposed extradition law that would allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial, with police bracing for the biggest march in the city in 15 years.