The UK looks set to tear up its extradition treaty with Hong Kong - a move that would infuriate China amid growing tensions with Beijing.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is to set out further measures in response China's imposition of a tough new national security law in Hong Kong and is expected to follow the example of the US, Canada and Australia and suspend the UK’s extradition treaty with the territory.
In a strong signal that he is ready to go down the same route, Mr Raab confirmed at the weekend that he had completed a review of Britain’s extradition arrangements as part of the next steps.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson confirmed on Monday morning, changes would be made to extradition arrangements with Hong Kong.
On a visit to a school in Kent he said: “There is a balance here. I’m not going to be pushed into a position of becoming a knee-jerk Sinophobe on every issue, somebody who is automatically anti-China.
“But we do have serious concerns. We have concerns about the treatment of the Uighur minority obviously, about the human rights abuses.
“We obviously have concerns about what’s happening in Hong Kong and you will be hearing a bit later on from the Foreign Secretary about how we are going to change our extradition arrangements to reflect our concerns about what’s happening with the security law in Hong Kong.”
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said: “What’s happening in China is deeply disturbing. “And we can’t turn a blind eye to it. We shouldn’t turn a blind eye. What we have argued for is sanctions in this country against Chinese officials who have been involved in human rights abuses. That’s something that could be done straight away.”
“Obviously, the Foreign Secretary is going to make an announcement about extradition this afternoon, we will wait and see what he says, but I think it’s inevitable that he has to suspend the arrangements for extradition, Starmer said.
He added: “We will wait and see what they say about extradition, but it looks like a step in the right direction, and therefore we would support that. We would say go further – you can impose sanctions, and you should impose sanctions here in the United Kingdom.”
China was already smarting over the Government’s decision last week to exclude the tech giant Huawei from the UK’s 5G network – reversing a decision in January allowing it a limited role.
Mr Raab threatened to pour further fuel on flames, accusing the communist regime of committing “gross, egregious human rights abuses” against the country’s Uighur population in the north-western Xinjiang province.
The Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, said Beijing was still evaluating its response to the Huawei ruling.
ITV News Political Correspondent Romilly Weeks says the PM is trying to tread a careful path and has insisted this is not the end of engagement with China
There were reports at the weekend that the Chinese social media company TikTok had broken off talks to open a global headquarters in Britain.
Communist Party officials were also reported to have warned UK companies operating in China, including Jaguar Land Rover, BP and GlaxoSmithKline, that they could now face retaliation.
Mr Liu warned Britain not to get drawn into a “tit-for-tat” confrontation in the way the US had, imposing sanctions on Chinese officials over alleged abuses in Xinjiang, prompting Beijing to sanction a number of US senators and officials.
Mr Raab played down suggestions any such measures were imminent under the UK’s new independent sanctions regime, saying that it took a long time to build a case against any alleged abusers.
He insisted also that Britain wanted a “positive relationship” with China, working with it on issues like climate change as well as trade and investment.
However, with further UK measures due now on Hong Kong, relations look set to deteriorate even further.
The Government says the new national security law violates the Sino-British Joint Declaration which was supposed to guarantee Hongkongers’ way of life for 50 years after the handover of the former British colony in 1997.
In response, it has already offered a path to UK citizenship for three million Hongkongers eligible for British National (Overseas) passport – a move which enraged Beijing.
In a combative BBC interview on Sunday, Mr Liu denounced Britain for “dancing to the tune” of the US and accused Western countries of trying to foment a “new cold war” with China.
He also rejected the allegations of widespread abuses against the mainly-Muslim Uighur people, accusing “so-called Western intelligence” of making repeated “false allegations” against China.
He suggested video footage, said to be from Xinjiang, showing men, kneeling and blindfolded waiting to be led onto trains by police officers was “fake”.
Meanwhile, China is expected to be high on the agenda this week when US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo travels to London for talks with senior British figures.
Mr Pompeo flies out on Monday ahead of meetings expected on Tuesday with Boris Johnson and Mr Raab, as well as MPs pressing the Government to take a harder line on China.