UK prepared to sacrifice free trade deal with China to protect people of Hong Kong, Raab says

3 June 2020, 16:16 | Updated: 3 June 2020, 16:34

Britain is ready to stand up for the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong even at the price of a free trade deal with China, the foreign secretary has said.

Dominic Raab told Sky News that Beijing's rise as a global economic power risks losing its shine unless President Xi Jinping's government lives up to its international commitments and reverses course on a plan to impose a new security law on the former British territory.

He said London would consult with its allies on further steps if necessary.

The comments came after Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the UK will pave the way for millions of Hong Kong residents to become British citizens if China presses ahead with the legislation regardless.

"We have extended this because we are not turning our back on the people of Hong Kong," Mr Raab said.

"But I do think it is right to work with our international partners to give China a breathing space if you like to have a look at this and see whether it is the right move and to work with our international partners about what we do next," he said in an exclusive interview at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

"Equally we recognise China is a large power, a rising economic power and is a leading member of the international community.

"I think the thing that will take the shine if you like off that rise - not just the economic impact of COVID-19 - but also if it cannot live up to the deals that it makes," he said.

"It comes down to an issue of trust. Leading members of the international community, including China, need to live up to their responsibilities otherwise fundamentally why would anyone trust them with any other deals we might make at any other point in time?"

Asked whether the UK was willing to sacrifice a trade deal with China to stand up for its values, the foreign secretary said: "Us extending the UK BNO passport holder offer to come to the UK in the way that I have described is not contingent on a free trade deal or anything like that, we wouldn't allow that to get in the way of us living up to our responsibilities as a matter of principle both for moral reasons and international standing.

"That is really important.

"We will continue having a conversation with China about all of these things.

"We are not threatening anything. We are just pointing out as a matter of black and white in the joint declaration that China signed that it is in violation, direct violation, of undertakings freely given and we expect - as we expect any member of the international community as they expect of us - China to live up to those responsibilities."

Britain sees China's proposed national security law for Hong Kong as a violation of a Sino-British agreement that both sides signed up to before Hong Kong passed back to Chinese rule in 1997.

The UK is looking to strike new trade deals around the world as it charts a new course after leaving the European Union.