(Bloomberg) — China accused the British government of “utter interference” in the affairs of Hong Kong after protests in the former British colony, and issued a strongly worded reminder the territory “is not what it used to be” before it was handed over to Chinese control.
“The U.K. government chose to stand on the wrong side, it has made inappropriate remarks, not only to interfere in the internal affairs of Hong Kong but also to back up the violent lawbreakers,” Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to London, said in a televised statement on Wednesday. He also said Britain has tried to “obstruct” Hong Kong authorities from “bringing the criminals to justice, which is utter interference in Hong Kong’s rule of law.”
Liu, who said his government had formally complained to the U.K., was summoned to the Foreign Office over the escalating tensions, according to a person familiar with the matter.
Earlier, Prime Minister Theresa May said she was “shocked” by the scenes of violence when protesters stormed the Hong Kong Legislative Council on Monday.
“The vast majority of the hundreds of thousands who marched did so peacefully and lawfully,” May told Parliament. “It is vital that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and the rights and freedoms set down in the Sino-British joint declaration are respected,” she said, noting the anniversary of the handover of Hong Kong to China this week.
China took control of Hong Kong in 1997, ending 156 years of British rule, after former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher negotiated a “one country, two systems” agreement. It was designed to guarantee freedoms and was sealed with a joint declaration signed by Britain and China in 1984.
But pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong frequently invoke that deal and call on the U.K. to intervene when they feel its terms are being ignored; demonstrators who entered the Legislative Council building unfurled a Union Jack-emblazoned colonial flag as part of their protests.
“We want to be the best of friends with China, we want to trade with China, but we expect all countries that we have internationally binding agreements with to honor those agreements,” Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt told Channel 4 News.
China demanded the U.K. stay out of its affairs in Hong Kong. Its Foreign Ministry this week said the Sino-British agreement “no longer has any practical significance.”
“I would like to reiterate that Hong Kong is China’s special administrative region, it is not what it used to be under the British colonial rule,” Liu said.
(Updates with Hunt comment in eighth paragraph.)
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