The Foreign Secretary was speaking during a 24-hour visit. In a speech to businessmen he said that Hong Kong "has retained its character as a genuinely free and prosperous society". He also praised Peking for giving the territory the autonomy promised in an agreement with Britain.
Pro-democracy groups in Hong Kong reacted with anger to his remarks. The Frontier group published an open letter saying it was "disturbed and dismayed" by Mr Cook's comments, which "demonstrated a lack of understanding of developments ... or the British government is reluctant to criticise the Chinese and SAR governments".
Martin Lee, leader of the Democratic Party, said that he too was disappointed by Britain's reluctance to criticise developments which had led to the rolling back of civil liberties. He said that Mr Cook was merely satisfied that elections were being held in May, while not questioning the nature of these elections.