Britain yesterday warned China that there would be serious consequences if Beijing broke its promises to protect freedoms in Hong Kong, after police fired tear gas to disperse hundreds of protesters.
Officers moved in after crowds stormed and trashed the Legislative Council building on Monday, the anniversary of the former British colony’s return to Chinese rule, protesting against proposed legislation allowing extraditions to China.
British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt condemned violence on both sides, but said that China needed to stick to commitments that it made when it took back Hong Kong to allow freedoms there not enjoyed in China, including the freedom to protest.
“There will be serious consequences if that internationally binding legal agreement were not to be honored,” said Hunt, who is a candidate to replace Theresa May as British prime minister.
“The UK signed an internationally binding legal agreement ... that enshrines the ‘one country, two systems’ rule, enshrines the basic freedoms of the people of Hong Kong and we stand four-square behind that agreement, four-square behind the people of Hong Kong,” he told the BBC.
China on Monday said that Britain no longer has any responsibility for Hong Kong and needed to stop “gesticulating” about the territory.
It has denied interfering in Hong Kong affairs, although protesters have said that the extradition bill is part of a relentless move toward Chinese control.
Hunt said that many supporters of the Hong Kong demonstrators would have been dismayed by footage of Monday’s protests.
“But we urge the authorities not to use what happened as a pretext for repression, but rather to understand the root causes of what happened, which is a deep-seated concern by people in Hong Kong that their basic freedoms are under attack,” he said.
The protests have created a fresh crisis for Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平), who is already grappling with a trade dispute with Washington, a faltering economy and tension in the South China Sea.
China and Britain signed a Joint Declaration in 1984 on the terms of the return of Hong Kong.
Monday marked the 22nd anniversary of the actual handover in 1997 and some protesters hung a colonial flag in the Legislative Council building after getting in.
China in 2017 said that the Sino-British Joint Declaration was a historical document with no practical significance and has regularly urged Britain not to interfere in Hong Kong affairs as the protests have mounted.
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