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
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins win the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
Arts and Entertainment
Louis Theroux: By Reason of Insanity takes him behind the bars again
tvBy Reason of Insanity, TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Junior Web Designer - Client Liaison

£6 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join a gro...

Recruitment Genius: Service Delivery Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A Service Delivery Manager is required to join...

Recruitment Genius: Massage Therapist / Sports Therapist

£12000 - £24000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A opportunity has arisen for a ...

Ashdown Group: Practice Accountant - Bournemouth - £38,000

£32000 - £38000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful accountancy practice in...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor