This Thursday, if the Lord Mayor of the City of London allows, the Corporation (the political body which runs the Square Mile) will debate whether or not to welcome those residents of Hong Kong who have the right to settle in the UK, or seek refuge here.
This follows recent imposition by Beijing of a new Security Law upon the UK’s former colony. That law has various clauses – many seen as profoundly oppressive. For example, it allows the life imprisonment of democracy protestors.
Because of our shared history many people who have deep connections here – including the right to live among us – are now subject to arbitrary authority, such as we have not endured for centuries.
The Lord Mayor’s discretion is required to discuss this motion because it was submitted late. There is precedent for allowing such debate – especially when a situation is developing as rapidly as this one – but strong voices oppose it this time. They state that such a motion would unsettle our ‘economic diplomacy‘ with China – they say, it would imperil trade.
Of course, trade is the very essence of the City of London and international commerce is at the fore of that. The movers of the Motion, me included, respect that.
Nonetheless, trading relationships, whilst recognising distinct interests, are based on foundations. If the basis is mutual respect for free expression and property enshrined by contract and Treaty then enriching liberty will flow with commerce between parties. They will trust each other implicitly. In doing so, they will grow.
When trade is based on prostration before the raw and whimsical exercise of power then the exchange will be corrupting. It will foster tyranny and debase one party, or both.
There is a good reason why the City of London used to be honoured for the expression ‘my word is my bond’. Trust and dependability should be at the heart of all our dealings. If neither party offers that dependability then both are debased. If only we do, then we are demeaned. In such circumstance, we trade jewels for baubles.
The motion does not seek to condemn the exercise of authority by the People’s Republic of China. Neither does it seek to correct it.
It simply notes that, by imposing the new Security Law, those authorities have unsettled some people who have the right to live in London. Those are people who could add immensely to our society. They should be welcome here. The motion then merely asks the City of London to embrace the opportunity welcome such people to our community.
We claim to want the best talent from around the world. Now is our chance to prove it. If that causes offence, then those who take offence either did not consider the consequence of their action or they do not think of us as equals.
We have given such refuge before. The Huguenots were welcomed in the the UK when Louis XIV rescinded the Edict of Nantes. They went on to enrich our society – as did the children of the Kindertransport and Ugandan Asians. As the Huguenots shaped our past, others are shaping our present – and the people of Hong Kong can help define our future.
The enterprise and drive shown in Hong Kong are qualities we should embrace – now more than ever.
Debating the motion is vital. It will encourage trade to be based on principle rather than raw power. It will help us face the future with confidence. It will inspire all involved to be better.
We owe it to the City. We owe it to Hong Kong. We owe it to China.
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