China’s ambassador to the UK has been summoned to the Foreign Office accused of making unacceptable criticisms of the UK after a rare press conference in which he claimed that the British foreign secretary was backing law-breakers in Hong Kong.
Relations between the UK and China cooled sharply after Jeremy Hunt called on Beijing not to use the protests in Hong Kong as a “pretext for repression”.
On Wednesday, Liu Xiaoming said Hunt’s remarks represented gross and unacceptable interference, a claim that was dismissed by the Foreign Office as unacceptable and inaccurate.
In a bid to underline British displeasure at the ambassador’s remarks, the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Simon McDonald, summoned the ambassador for a dressing down.
The sudden collapse in Sino-British relations – relative to the golden era hailed by David Cameron in 2013 – represents a personal test for Hunt as he makes his bid for the premiership, but it is also likely to have consequences for Hong Kong’s future relations with Chinese government.
Earlier this week, protesters stormed the legislative council building and raised the old British colonial flag on the 22nd anniversary of the territory’s return to Chinese rule on 1 July.
“It’s very disappointing when the senior officials of his calibre show support of these lawbreaking people. We all remember what Hong Kong was 22 years ago under British rule: there was no freedom, democracy, whatever.
“We all know that all governors were appointed by the British government, people had no right to elect officials, no right to demonstrate, certainly, and they did not even have a right to have an independent judicial power.”
Liu warned that Britain’s relationship with China would be damaged by what he described as the “interference” of the British government.
“If the British government goes further, it will cause further damages, so that is why I’m calling the British government to reflect the consequences of its words and deeds with regards to Hong Kong. I do hope the British government will realise the consequences and refrain from further interference from further damaging the relationship.”
Liu also complained that the British government had called on the Chinese government not to use the violence as an excuse for oppression when it was a matter for the independent judiciary in Hong Kong to punish the offenders, including those who had attacked the police with toxic powder.
While condemning all violence, Hunt refused to back away from the demonstrators’ cause after a minority of activists on Monday split from the main body of the protests to storm the legislative council.
China has promised heavy retribution, and said that the wrongdoers would face the full force of the law. Twelve people were arrested on Wednesday by Hong Kong police and charged with a variety of offences in the vicinity of the council building.
Responding to the ambassador’s criticisms, Hunt showed no signs of qualms over his stance, tweeting: “Message to Chinese govt: good relations between countries are based on mutual respect and honouring the legally binding agreements between them. That is the best way to preserve the great relationship between the UK and China.”
His defence of legally binding agreements is a reference to the joint declaration signed by the UK and China to maintain Hong Kong’s way of life for at least 50 years after the handover. The joint declaration, signed by Margaret Thatcher and the then Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang, set out how the rights of Hong Kong citizens should be protected in the territory’s basic law under Chinese rule.
Hong Kong has, since 1997, been run by China under a “one country, two systems” arrangement that guarantees it a level of economic autonomy and personal freedoms not permitted on the mainland.
Geng Shuang, a spokesman for Beijing’s ministry of foreign affairs, said Hunt appeared to be “basking in the faded glory of British colonialism and obsessed with lecturing others”.
“I need to re-emphasise that Hong Kong has now returned to its motherland.”
04 Jul 19/Thursday Source theguardian