Hong Kong turns its back on Rifkind

Handover countdown: As work on the colony's new airport continues apace, China tightens its grip on its territory-in-waiting

Malcolm Rifkind, the Foreign Secretary, is clearly vexed by his crash- course in the Buddhist art of clapping with a single hand. After his whirlwind weekend visit to Hong Kong it is clear that Britain's hand in the colony is relatively empty, making the visit little more than an embarrassing demonstration of British impotence.

This may be inevitable with just 19 weeks to go before China resumes sovereignty but Britain seems to be caught between stressing its long- term commitment to the territory and demonstrating its inability to achieve many of its last goals.

High on the British agenda is a rearguard action to stop China from watering down human-rights legislation and to prevent the establishment of a rival legislature. Britain has threatened to take China to the International Court of Justice to adjudicate on whether the rival body is legal, but the Chinese have refused, point blank, to go.

Mr Rifkind was repeatedly asked what action Britain would take in the face of this refusal. The Foreign Secretary blustered and rather uncharacteristically lost his cool. He turned on one Australian journalist, who suggested that Britain was not doing much, saying, "if you have anything else in mind, tell me what you suggest".

A British official later said that it was necessary "to come to terms with the loss of sovereignty and the loss of control". Clearly annoyed that the Foreign Secretary had been accused of not doing enough for Hong Kong, he said that Britain had every intention of fully exercising its sovereignty until 30 June but had to be realistic about what levers were at its disposal after that.

Arriving on Saturday evening, Mr Rifkind stated that Hong Kong policy was "the single highest priority of our international relations" - but not of sufficient priority, apparently, to prevent the visit being cut to the bone so that he could fly back to Westminster for a crucial vote this evening.

It may have been just as well he did not stay. A mere eight of the Legislative Council's 60 members bothered to attend a meeting with him, and the press conference, normally packed for a visit of this kind, was only modestly attended by the local media.

Tung Chee-hwa, who will head Hong Kong's first post-colonial government, spent less than a hour in what turned out to be little more than a friendly but stilted chat, with both sides going through the motions. Yet Mr Rifkind insisted that in most points ofhandover negotiations "not only are we making progress, but most of them have been resolved". He even believed there might be a possibility that China would think again about reintroducing colonial laws which limited freedom of assembly and association.

It was hard to find a basis for Mr Rifkind's confidence. Mr Tung said yesterday that while he was prepared to listen to the public's views on these matters, "I have a set of values and beliefs which I hold on to very much". This seems a polite way of saying that the decisions are irreversible.

Britain's last hope seems to be to play the international card. Mr Rifkind stressed that Britain's allies would be called upon to assist the Government in ensuring that Sino-British agreements on Hong Kong were fully implemented. He said that Hong Kong was one of the first issues he raised with Madeleine Albright when he called to congratulate her on being appointed United States Secretary of State.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Environmental Adviser - Maternity Cover

£37040 - £43600 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The UK's export credit agency a...

Recruitment Genius: CBM & Lubrication Technician

£25000 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides a compreh...

Recruitment Genius: Care Worker - Residential Emergency Service

£16800 - £19500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Would you like to join an organ...

Recruitment Genius: Senior Landscaper

£25000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: In the last five years this com...

Day In a Page

Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

Britain's 24-hour culture

With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

The addictive nature of Diplomacy

Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
8 best children's clocks

Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones