Britain’s ex-leader wants foreign secretary to go further in his statements on Hong Kong’s democracy trials.
By Andrew McDonald
January 9, 2024
Liz Truss called for an "urgent and unequivocal statement of support" of the Brits named in the "trumped up" trial | Justin Tallis/AFP via Getty Images
LONDON — Former British Prime Minister Liz Truss demanded “robust action” from the U.K. government after two British citizens were named as co-conspirators in the controversial trial of Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai.
Several overseas campaigners, politicians and journalists have been accused by China of helping Lai, a publisher in Hong Kong, lobby foreign countries for sanctions against Beijing. Lai is on trial under the national security law China imposed on Hong Kong after a spate of pro-democracy protests in 2019.
Two British citizens — sanctions campaigner Bill Browder and Luke de Pulford, director of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China — have been named as “co-conspirators” in the trial.
In a letter to British Foreign Secretary David Cameron on Tuesday, Truss warned that this marked “the first time foreign nationals have been named in this way and represents a clear escalation” by Beijing.
She called for an “urgent and unequivocal statement of support” of the Brits named in the “trumped up” trial, and said Cameron should take “robust action” in line with the U.K.’s obligations to its former colony.
The U.K. has previously accused Beijing of breaching the Sino-British Joint Declaration, agreed between the U.K. and China as a blueprint for how the city would be ruled after its 1997 return to China. And it has opened up a new visa route for people wishing to leave Hong Kong.
But Truss warned that “the fact that Beijing is in ongoing non-compliance with the Joint Declaration does not absolve us from doing everything possible to discharge our legal duties.”
“We have a moral and legal obligation to oppose actions which violate the Joint Declaration and its implementing legislation,” the ex-PM added. “Attempts to label British citizens as criminals clearly meet this threshold.”
Cameron — who on Tuesday faces a grilling by MPs on the foreign affairs committee — has called for Lai’s release. But he has also faced scrutiny over his policy of pursuing closer ties with China when he was U.K. prime minister in the 2010s.
Truss, whose brief spell in office came crashing down in 2022, is one of parliament’s most outspoken China hawks. She delivered a speech calling for more action to combat China during a trip to Taiwan last year.