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Sunday, Sep 27, 2020

UK foreign minister Dominic Raab to raise Hong Kong protests in talks with French and German counterparts

The diplomatic force of European action will be strongest if the three countries act together, says an advocate for the pro-democracy demonstrators. The British foreign secretary considers Hong Kong and Iran his top two foreign policy issues, according to people familiar with his thinking
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab will discuss Hong Kong’s situation with his German and French counterparts on Wednesday, his office said on Tuesday.

A London-based advocate for the protesters in Hong Kong said Raab should make use of his separate meetings with Heiko Maas and Jean-Yves Le Drian, the foreign ministers of Germany and France, to discuss asylum situations and to promote an independent investigation into the increasingly violent situation.

The meetings will take place in Brussels on the sidelines of the Nato foreign ministers’ meeting.

“The foreign secretary will also use today’s visit to separately meet with his E3 French and German counterparts to discuss shared foreign policy challenges, including … the escalation of protests in Hong Kong,” Britain’s Foreign Office said in a statement.

Raab’s meetings come two days after the European Union – of which all three countries are members – urged the Hong Kong government not to delay the district council elections planned for Sunday.

People familiar with his thinking said Raab considered Hong Kong and Iran his top two foreign policy issues.

Johnny Patterson, director of Hong Kong Watch, said: “With the situation in Hong Kong on a knife edge, it is vital that European leaders step up. Dominic Raab should stand with his French and German counterparts to call for an independent inquiry into the protests as this is the only viable route to a political solution.”

Patterson said the diplomatic force of European action would be strongest if these countries acted together.

“They should draw up a contingency plan if Hongkongers start seeking asylum, and should tell Beijing that the further erosion of rights and freedoms will result in the application of coordinated Magnitsky sanctions,” he said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government has committed to implementing a global Magnitsky Act to punish perpetrators of human rights abuses. Campaigners have called for this to be applied to Hong Kong officials.

Germany has granted asylum to two Hong Kong activists, though they were not related to the protests that started in June when Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor rolled out a divisive extradition bill, which has since been withdrawn.

Maas attracted criticism from China in September when he met Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Hong Kong's leading student activist, in Berlin.

Germany and France should coordinate with Britain on how to come to a unified position on Hong Kong, according to foreign policy experts in the two countries.

The meetings “should serve to come to a common understanding about the severity of what is happening” in Hong Kong, with a joint position and “ideally one that bites a bit more beyond just stating that all sides should be restrained”, said Mikko Huotari, deputy director of the Mercator Institute for China Studies in Berlin.

“Beyond statements, they should discuss: Can/should there be any effective conditionality attached to our ‘concerns’? What leverage – if at all – do we have?” Huotari said in an emailed reply.

Antoine Bondaz, fellow at the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research, said the top priority for France would be to have a coordinated and united approach with the British.

On Monday, the European Union warned the Hong Kong government not to delay the district council elections scheduled for Sunday, amid speculation about a possible postponement amid the protests.

The 28-country bloc also called for police action to remain “strictly proportionate” in and around Polytechnic University, where a tense stand-off between radical protesters and police continued.

The statement came in the form of a declaration by the European Commission’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, on behalf of the EU.
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