China warns UK against 'interfering' in affairs of Hong Kong as region gripped by democracy protests

Britain is conducting an inquiry into its relationship with Hong Kong and the rights of its citizens, 17 years after it handed sovereignty to China

Britain is unjustifiably meddling in the affairs of Hong Kong, China has said, as it warns the UK not to “interfere” in its political reforms.

Earlier this year the UK’s Foreign Affairs Committee announced, much to the annoyance of Chinese bureaucrats, that it would be conducting an inquiry into Hong Kong’s progress since sovereignty was handed back to the former British colony in 1997.

In evidence published by the House of Commons in July, Anson Chan, head of the Hong Kong Civil Service, said that China and Britain were not fulfilling their duties under the Sino-British Joint Declaration of 1984, which had cemented basic rights and freedoms for the region's citizens.

Anson Chan said that the “one country, two systems” framework was not being kept to and that “17 years after the return of sovereignty, this concept is under serious attack” by the “insidious erosion of basic freedoms” such as press freedom, the targeting of pro-democracy activists and the lack of movement on constitutional reform. She also said that Beijing is responsible for “blatant interference in Hong Kong’s internal affairs”.

The start of this British inquiry has irritated Beijing officials, who have send a letter to the Foreign Affairs Committee claiming that the investigation would be a “highly inappropriate act which constitutes interference in China's internal affairs”.

The letter, which was seen by BBC Newsnight, also reportedly said that the inquiry would send “a wrong political signal to the outside world, and disrupt Hong Kong's political reform”, while also having a “negative impact on the relations between our countries”.

In stern words, it added: “Bear in mind the larger picture of China-UK relations and Hong Kong's prosperity and stability, stop interfering in Hong Kong's affairs and cancel the inquiry on UK-Hong Kong relations.”

 

The committee’s Chairman, Sir Richard Ottaway, told the BBC programme that he was not offended by the letter but that he wanted the Chinese authorities to “understand the way we work”.

He added that he did not “particularly want to irritate the Chinese” but that both countries have a “job to do” and he confirmed to Reuters that they would not be stopping the review.

READ MORE: Hong Kong braced for more demonstrations
Hong Kong 2017 elections: Protests begin in China
China takes a hard line over foreign interference

“It may well be that my committee will decide that actually the Chinese are behaving perfectly reasonably,” he said.

Hong Kong has been rocked by protests following China’s announcement that it will be limiting democratic freedoms by restricting who can and cannot stand for the city’s top job in 2017.

According to the South China Morning Post, Beijing official Li Fei said voters would be “confused” by too many candidates.

Sir Richard Ottaway has said that if this is true, if China was putting forward a “limited number of candidates” for the upcoming election, then this could be a breach of the 1984 agreement.

Hong Kong has witnessed a wave of demonstrations since the announcement, with at least 22 people arrested, according to AFP.

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