HONG KONG, May 9 (Reuters) – British Investment Secretary Dominic Johnson said he held a series of meetings with government officials and executives in Hong Kong this week, the first official visit by a senior British official to the city in five years.
Johnson’s visit comes as relations between Britain and Hong Kong have become increasingly strained since 2020, when Beijing imposed a national security law on the former colony.
Johnson said he was in Hong Kong to promote the UK as a leading destination for investment and trade.
“Hong Kong is one of the world’s leading international financial centers and we have common interests from financial services to infrastructure to sustainability,” he tweeted.
Johnson also wrote in an opinion piece in the South China Morning Post on Tuesday that Britain would engage with China and Hong Kong, where interests converge, but stand up for its values ”and be clear about our right to act when Beijing breaches its international commitments or violates human rights’.
Britain would not look the other way on Hong Kong, he said, adding that the country would not shirk its historic responsibilities.
“As a signatory to the Joint Declaration, we will continue to stand up for the people of Hong Kong, call out the violation of their freedoms and hold China to its international obligations.”
Hong Kong and Beijing have previously said Britain has no rights over the city under the joint declaration, which lays out the plan for how the city will be governed after its reunification with China in 1997.
Photos on Johnson’s Twitter account posted on Monday showed him meeting with Christopher Hui, secretary for financial services and the Hong Kong Treasury, “to discuss our ongoing work to remove market barriers and increase trade between United Kingdom and Hong Kong’.
He also met with CK Hutchison ( 0001.HK ) chairman Victor Li and co-managing director Canning Fok to discuss the company’s investment plans in Britain.
Johnson visited the city’s Cyberport area on Monday, which authorities are trying to develop as a launch zone, according to photos he posted on his channel.
Asked about Johnson’s visit, Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee said on Tuesday that he welcomes foreign officials to come to Hong Kong to promote business, trade and people-to-people ties, as Hong Kong has always relied on international and regional cooperation for its success.
“It’s just that some countries, because of their political interests, are making certain moves to jeopardize the relationship,” Lee said, without referring directly to Britain.
“We must all focus on economic development for mutual benefit…we must be pragmatic and promote favorable policies.”
The Hong Kong government did not respond to a request for comment on Johnson’s trip, nor did the British consulate provide details. All of Johnson’s meetings have been behind closed doors and unavailable to the media.
He is due to leave Hong Kong on Tuesday.
Western governments, including Britain’s, have criticized the security law as a tool to crush dissent.
Chinese and Hong Kong authorities say the law, which punishes subversion, collusion with foreign powers and terrorism with life in prison, has brought stability since the 2019 protests.
British Foreign Secretary James Cleverley said last week he had “made clear” Britain’s views on Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Taiwan in a meeting with Chinese Vice President Han Zheng during the latter’s visit to London for the coronation of King Charles.
London has curbed Chinese investment over national security concerns and expressed concern over Beijing’s growing military and economic assertiveness.
Reporting by Farrah Master and Jesse Pang; Edit by Lincoln Feast
Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.