China warns Britain over MPs report on 'eroded' Hong Kong freedoms

6th March 2015, Comments 0 comments

China said Britain had "no right to interfere" in Hong Kong on Friday following a report by British MPs that warned of an erosion of freedoms in the city.

Britain's influential Foreign Affairs Committee report released late Thursday said the country's former colony could face a "crisis of governance" unless tensions over how it is ruled are resolved.

The committee's chairman Richard Ottaway said the "real concern is that a high degree of autonomy is being eroded" -- particularly over political reforms and press freedoms.

However Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that Hong Kong's return to China under a "one country, two systems" deal had been "a great success".

"Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China. Its affairs are China's domestic affairs. The UK has no right to interfere," she said at a briefing Friday.

Under the Joint Declaration signed in 1984 which set out the terms of Britain's handover, Hong Kong has a string of political, social and economic freedoms not enjoyed on the Chinese mainland.

In a scathing commentary following Beijing's condemnation, the official news agency Xinhua dismissed the report out of hand.

"There has never been so absurd a report as the one by UK MPs claiming a region that used to be under British colonial rule for nearly a century has become less free since its return to China," Xinhua said.

"The wording of the report shows that these British MPs are hostile to Hong Kong's development and are still labouring under a colonial mindset," it added.

China announced in August last year that candidates running for Hong Kong chief executive in 2017 -- the first ever public vote for leader -- would be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee.

The Asian financial hub was rocked by more than two months of pro-democracy protests last year after the announcement, with MPs adding in the report that electoral proposals did not offer a "genuine choice" to the people of Hong Kong.

British MPs were barred from entering the city by China in December to research their report as the demonstrations continued, with Chinese officials accusing them of acting as a colonial power.

Hong Kong's democrat lawmakers had called British MPs "honourable" Friday.

"I can't agree more with what they have said, they have certainly spoken out the truth," pro-democracy legislator Albert Ho told AFP.

Alan Leong of Hong Kong's Civic Party said of the report: "It's the first honourable thing that the British have done in this Hong Kong fight for democracy."

But lawmakers added that the city could not rely on foreign support to force change.

"We in Hong Kong cannot count on and depend on any foreign powers, British included, to help us to get what we want in terms of real democracy," Leong said.

- 'Use state visit to press Xi' -

Ottaway said that while it could not force China to change its behaviour, it could offer guidance "from a country that's had a democracy for hundreds of years."

"If you offer the people a bit of democracy, they're going to want the whole lot... until they get a complete package of democracy, this is going to be a continuing problem for them," he told AFP.

The committee's report also urged the British government to press China harder to ensure that "fundamental rights" are protected.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is making a state visit to Britain later this year and whoever is prime minister after May's general election should use the occasion to push the issue, the report said.

The state visit would be a good opportunity "to convey to the Chinese government that really, it's not in their interests to go on the way they are", Ottaway said.

Hong Kong pro-democracy activists have been highly critical of Britain's failure to speak out against China's plans for the 2017 vote, accusing it of being focused on boosting economic ties with Beijing instead.

And the committee's report voiced concern that the Foreign Office's "lack of clarity" in expressing its views on the issue "may be damaging the UK's reputation" in Hong Kong.

"The UK can and should take a clearer position on the overall pace and degree of democratic reform," it said.

© 2015 AFP

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