The Chinese ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, told the UK to keep its “hands off Hong Kong” on Wednesday, coming as the latest development in an escalating diplomatic dispute between the UK and China over ongoing protests in Hong Kong.
Speaking at the Chinese embassy in London, Mr Liu said that a “colonial mindset is still haunting the minds of some officials or politicians,” adding that “they forget that Hong Kong has now returned to the embrace of the motherland”.
Hong Kong “is not what it used to be under British colonial rule,” said Mr Liu, who suggested that the UK government is aiming to interfere in the internal affairs of Hong Kong, under “special administration” of China.
The ambassador’s remarks came in response to several statements by prominent figures in the UK regarding the ongoing situation. Both conservative leadership candidates have spoken out on the issue. Current foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt warned of “serious consequences” if the “internationally binding legal agreement” in place over the terms of return of Hong Kong in 1997 from the UK to China is not respected.
The Joint Declaration, drafted in 1984, permits freedoms in Hong Kong, such as the right to protest, which are not granted in mainland China. The agreement is based around a model of “one country, two systems”.
Boris Johnson also noted that he supports the people of Hong Kong “every inch of the way”.
Chinese state media this week said western figures are aggravating the situation in Hong Kong.
Mr Liu was quickly summoned to the foreign office after his statement, with FCO permanent under secretary Sir Simon McDonald declaring the comments “unacceptable and inaccurate”.
On Twitter, Jeremy Hunt wrote that the best way to preserve a strong UK-China relationship was to foster relations “based on mutual respect” as well as “honouring the legally binding agreements between them”.
As the diplomatic spat evolves, protests in Hong Kong continue for their third month, dramatically heightening over the past few weeks.
Demonstrations arose in response to a controversial extradition bill, which was widely claimed to undermine the rule of law in Hong Kong by giving Beijing the power to prosecute activists in its communist-party controlled courts. The bill was suspended on June 15.
Despite the suspension of the bill, the situation continues to intensify. On Monday night protestors stormed the legislature on anniversary of Hong Kong’s transfer Chinese rule, ending with riot police firing tear gas. With protesters graffitiing portraits of pro-Beijing politicians and writing slogans such as “Hong Kong is not China”, the demonstrations have been seen to be transforming into an outlet for wider discontent over the “one country, two systems” model.
It remains to be seen how UK-China relations will proceed after these remarks. But Mr Liu did not hold back; suggesting that UK interference in the situation has “damaged the relationship”, he boldly stated that “the UK government chose to stand on the wrong side”.