Colonial overtones: Growing UK-China row over Hong Kong
As the colonial power that handed over Hong Kong to China in 1997, Britain on Thursday ratcheted up its criticism over Beijing’s handling of the recent protests in Hong Kong. The comments came after the Chinese envoy told London not to interfere in China’s internal affairs.
Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt refused to rule out extreme measures such as sanctions and expelling diplomats, taking UK-China relations to a new level after years of London courting Beijing on issues of trade and easier, cheaper visas for Chinese.
Urging Beijing to honour the landmark ‘one country-two systems’ agreement of 1984, Hunt reiterated his support to demonstrators, who recently stormed Hong Kong’s parliament over issues of freedom and extradition to China.
“The way to deal with that violence is not by repression, it is by understanding the root causes of the concerns of the demonstrators that freedoms that they have had for their whole life could be about to be undermined by this new extradition law,” he told BBC.
Asked if he planned to impose sanctions on China or expel diplomats, Hunt refused to rule it out: “No foreign secretary would ever spell out precisely what would happen in a situation like that. You need what Bill Clinton called ‘strategic ambiguity’.”
Hunt’s strong comments came after China’s ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming, was summoned to the Foreign Office after he warned London not to “interfere in domestic affairs”, adding that UK-China relations had been “damaged” by Hunt backing the demonstrators.
According to Xiaoming, those who illegally occupied Hong Kong’s parliament should be “condemned as law breakers”, but was told by Simon McDonald, head of the diplomatic service in the Foreign Office, that his comments were “unacceptable and inaccurate”.
Insisting that the UK’s principles were more important than trade relations, Hunt said: “Hong Kong is part of China, we recognise that. We are simply saying that we also have an agreement with the People’s Republic of China, and we would expect that to be honoured”.
In Hunt’s view, the situation in Hong Kong is “very, very serious”.
He added: “We are a country that has championed democracy, the rule of law, civil rights across the world for much of our history. We see the situation as very worrying. And we’re just asking very simply for that agreement that we have with China, from 1984 to be honoured.”
“If you’re asking me about the trade-off between our trading relations and our principles, in the end this is a country that has always defended the values we believe in and we think it’s a very important principle that international agreements are honoured,” he added.