By James Moules
THE UK government is being urged to undertake a review of its military training programmes with oppressive regimes following its decision to suspend its contracts with the Hong Kong police.
The Ministry of Defence (MoD) recently told the Observer that the UK’s military training for the Hong Kong police would be halted amid the ongoing coronavirus restrictions.
The MoD also cited China’s recent national security legislation – which critics say severely curbs civil liberties within the Special Administrative Region.
A spokesperson for the MoD said: “The UK Government has been clear that the enactment and imposition by China of national security legislation for Hong Kong constitutes a breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration, directly threatening the rights and freedoms of those in Hong Kong.
“In light of Coronavirus restrictions, all training with personnel from Hong Kong has been paused. It will be re-evaluated when restrictions are lifted.”
But campaigners are now calling for the government to take this opportunity to reassess its military training and arms trading with repressive governments.
Andrew Smith of Campaign Against Arms Trade told Redaction Politics: “This is a welcome decision, but it is too late. The UK should never have been arming and supporting the Hong Kong police to begin with.
“The crackdown that has been waged against pro-democracy campaigners has been brutal. The fact that the officers responsible may have been trained by UK forces should be a source of deep shame for Downing Street.
“There must be a full investigation into if UK arms have been used and if UK-trained officers have been responsible for the abuses that have been inflicted.
“This must serve as a turning point, no longer should the UK government be arming and training abusive police forces and human rights abusing regimes like the one in Hong Kong.”
Mass protests in Hong Kong were sparked last year by a planned bill that would enable extradition to the Chinese mainland – a move that many feared would erode the territory’s legal autonomy.
In spite of the bill’s withdrawal, pro-democracy protests have continued.
This suspension of military training follows the UK’s move last year to suspend export licences to Hong Kong for crowd control equipment including tear gas.
In the wake of the new national security law – which grants Chinese authorities greater powers to penalise protestors – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also offered up to three million Hong Kongers the chance to relocate to the UK and, eventually, to citizenship.
This, along with the UK’s decision to scrap remove Huawei equipment from its 5G network, has led to Sino-British relations deteriorating in recent months.
In a statement, Shadow International Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry also called for a review into the UK’s training contracts with repressive regimes.
She said: “Our armed forces are the international gold standard for excellence and professionalism, and it is no surprise that their counterparts from other countries want to come here to train under them.
“But when some of those countries are involved in violent repression of their own people as in Hong Kong, we have a moral duty to prevent the skills and tactics their service personnel are learning here being deployed against innocent civilians on their return.
“That is why I welcome the government’s decision to suspend this training, and urge them to review all other military training contracts with countries engaged in internal repression or external wars of aggression.”
Hong Kong currently maintains a ‘One Country, Two Systems’ relationship with the People’s Republic of China, granting it considerable levels of autonomy as a Special Administrative Region.
This system has been in place since Hong Kong’s handover from Britain to China in 1997. It also applies to the former Portuguese colony of Macau, which was ceded to China in 1999.
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