Dominic Raab has urged the Chinese authorities to change course over Hong Kong and “reach out and start to heal divisions”.
The Foreign Secretary said the controversial national security law imposed by Beijing and a move to disqualify pro-democracy legislators contributed to the “most concerning period in Hong Kong’s post-handover history”.
His comments came as prominent pro-democracy campaigner Joshua Wong and two other activists were taken into custody after pleading guilty to charges related to a demonstration outside police headquarters during anti-government protests last year.
Mr Raab used a foreword to a regular report on the situation in Hong Kong to note a series of issues where the UK and China are at odds.
He indicated that the participation of British judges in Hong Kong’s highest court could be reviewed if judicial independence is undermined.
The Foreign Secretary said he had begun consultations with UK Supreme Court president Lord Reed about “when to review whether it continues to be appropriate” for British judges to sit on Hong Kong’s Court of Final Appeal.
Hong Kong’s chief executive Carrie Lam can appoint judges to hear cases brought under the national security law and these can also be transferred to the Chinese mainland.
The Foreign Office report on Hong Kong said “this move clearly risks undermining the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary” and “we will monitor the use of this requirement closely, including its implications for the role of UK judges in the Hong Kong justice system”.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration guaranteed that, for 50 years from the handover by the UK in 1997, the Hong Kong special administrative region (SAR) would enjoy a high degree of autonomy.
Mr Raab said: “Beijing’s decisions to impose the national security law and then, a few months later, to disqualify elected legislators, represent two substantive breaches of the Joint Declaration in just five months.
“This calls into serious question China’s commitment to the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ framework.
“It is not too late for the authorities to reach out and start to heal divisions, however complicated and difficult that might be.
“For our part, the UK will continue to pursue an approach in Hong Kong that is rooted in our values, defends the rights of the people of Hong Kong and respects the provisions of the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration.”
Beijing has repeatedly rejected criticism of the national security law and has accused the UK of a colonial-style approach to Hong Kong’s affairs.
In Hong Kong, Mr Wong, together with fellow activists Ivan Lam and Agnes Chow, admitted charges related to organising, taking part in and inciting protesters to join an unauthorised protest outside police headquarters last June.
The three were members of the now-disbanded Demosisto political party.
They were remanded in custody at a court hearing on Monday, and are expected to be sentenced on December 2.
People found guilty of taking part in an unlawful assembly could face up to five years in prison.
Before the hearing Mr Wong said: “I am persuaded that neither prison bars, nor election ban, nor any other arbitrary powers would stop us from activism.”