British MPs have 'every right' to visit Hong Kong
The chairman of a British parliamentary committee refused entry to Hong Kong denied Monday that it was behaving like an interfering former colonial power, insisting it had "every right" to visit.
Richard Ottaway, chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, spoke after China refused to grant visas to members of the committee to visit Hong Kong, where violence re-erupted overnight with clashes between pro-democracy protestors and police.
The incident mars efforts to reset relations between Britain and China which were soured when Prime Minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama at Downing Street in 2012.
Ottaway, a senior member of Cameron's Conservative party, was told on Friday by China's deputy ambassador that eight lawmakers from his committee would not receive visas for a planned trip in a couple of weeks.
He said the deputy ambassador told him: "You're not still a colonial power."
Ottaway told AFP: "I don't think for a moment that we think that we're still a colonial power... we've got every right to ascertain whether China is complying with its undertakings."
Under the Joint Declaration signed in 1984 which set out the terms of Britain's 1997 handover of Hong Kong, the city is governed under the principle of "one country, two systems".
This means that Hong Kong has a string of political, social and economic freedoms not enjoyed on the Chinese mainland.
Ottaway believes that China was "concerned that we might be seen to be supporting the protestors" in Hong Kong but denied having any contact with them.
He is now pushing for an emergency debate on the situation to be held in the House of Commons Tuesday.
"They don't like criticism in China and I think if you're going to show a commitment to democracy, which they have done in Hong Kong, you've got to accept that democracy entails constructive criticism and they should actually learn to take it," he told AFP.
- 'Counter-productive' -
Protestors have been holding mass sit-ins since September, demanding free leadership elections, with some of the worst violence yet overnight.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hua Chunying said Monday that foreign countries had no right to "interfere" in Hong Kong.
He called the committee's attempt to travel "overtly confrontational", echoing the phrase Ottaway used Sunday to describe China's behaviour.
Cameron's official spokesman told reporters Monday that it was "mistaken" and "counter-productive" to block the lawmakers.
"It only serves to amplify concerns about the situation in Hong Kong," he said.
"As a co-signatory of the Joint Declaration, the UK does have a legitimate concern and interest in the way that treaty is implemented.
"It's perfectly understandable that British members of parliament will want to scrutinise how that is implemented."
Another group of British lawmakers last week cancelled a visit to China after a member who spoke up for Hong Kong's right to autonomy was not granted a visa.
Ottaway, meanwhile, said he thought that the many international banks and financial services firms based in Hong Kong would be "very concerned" at what has happened.
"I'm pretty sure businesses there will be raising an eyebrow and actually beginning to wonder whether it might be better to be relocating to Singapore rather than staying," he added.
© 2014 AFP