China criticizes British report on HK freedoms

AFP, HONG KONG

Fri, Mar 29, 2019 - Page 1

China on Wednesday condemned a British report that expressed concern over eroding freedoms in Hong Kong, accusing Britian of having “ignored and distorted the truth” about the territory.

Former British colony Hong Kong enjoys rights unseen on the Chinese mainland, including freedom of expression, which are protected in the handover agreement between China and Britain, but in recent years concern has grown in Hong Kong and abroad about its freedoms disappearing as Beijing tightens its grip on the territory.

In a report on Wednesday, British Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Jeremy Hunt said he was “concerned that on civil and political freedoms, Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is being reduced.”

Hunt cited recent moves by Hong Kong authorities, including banning a pro-independence party, screening political candidates and barring a Financial Times journalist who chaired a talk by an independence activist.

He described “recent pressure being applied on Hong Kong to move towards a mainland Chinese interpretation of civil and political freedoms, under which certain subjects are effectively off-limits for discussion and debate.”

In response, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs urged Britain to “stop interfering in China’s internal affairs,” state media reported.

A spokesperson for the ministry in Hong Kong said the “so-called report ... ignored and distorted the truth by deliberately confusing the legitimate and lawful measures taken” to fight pro-independence forces and protect national security, Xinhua news agency reported.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) has previously criticized Britain’s six-monthly reports, noting they still continue “despite the unification.”

British activist Benedict Rogers said it was “the first time that the [British] Foreign and Commonwealth Office has publicly stated so clearly and strongly in a six-monthly report that not all aspects of ‘one country, two systems’ are functioning well.”

The report “reflects a serious deterioration of the situation on the ground,” Rogers said.