Scepticism was expressed in Hong Kong yesterday about whether Britain would really stand up for the city's interests despite a pledge by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg.
Two academics said the Conservative Party's concerns about trade relations with China remained the biggest hindrance to Britain offering more than "some moral backing".
Professor Lau Siu-kai and Dr Kenneth Chan Ka-lok were speaking after Clegg was quoted as saying Britain would "pursue every legal and other avenue available" if China breached the agreement vowing "one country, two systems".
Watch: Anson Chan slams Britain's latest report on Hong Kong in UK Parliament
Lau, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said that while Britain might give some moral support, "I don't think they are determined to do anything on behalf of Hong Kong's democratic reform".
Chan, an associate professor in political science at the Baptist University, said Clegg's Liberal Democrats - coalition partner of the Conservatives - were always "strongly behind" Hong Kong's democratic movement.
"But the Conservatives would [only speak up] if British interests in Hong Kong were being threatened," he said.
Clegg's remarks were quoted on Wednesday by pan-democrats Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Martin Lee Chu-ming, who are currently visiting Britain.
Meanwhile, Labour Party lawmaker Mark Hendrick has quoted an article by a former British diplomat to challenge the contention by Chan, the former chief secretary, and Lee, founding chairman of the Democratic Party, that Beijing's white paper last month contravened the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.
The paper, published online by the influential Chatham House policy institute, was titled, "White paper does not mark major shift on Hong Kong".
Dr Tim Summers, British consul-general in Chongqing from 2004 to 2007 and now a Hong Kong-based Chatham House consulting fellow, wrote: "The white paper has been seized upon by those who wish to push the centre to go beyond Basic Law provisions on the road to universal suffrage.
"But it is politics and not the text of the white paper which is behind the rise in political temperature in Hong Kong."