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Hong Kong Basic Law

China tells UK to back off after Boris Johnson warns of Beijing's increasing influence over Hong Kong

UK foreign secretary cites recent cases in the city as cause for worry, but local authorities say foreign governments should stay out of its affairs

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 March, 2018, 7:32am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2018, 8:45pm

China has told the UK to back off after British foreign secretary Boris Johnson doubled down on concerns that the “one country, two systems” governing formula for Hong Kong was coming under increasing pressure.

Beijing’s foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said on Friday that Hong Kong affairs were purely China’s affairs, and accused Britain of making “irresponsible remarks” by releasing its latest six-monthly report on the city.

“Since July 1, 1997, Hong Kong affairs have been China’s internal affairs,” Lu said. “Britain has no power to intervene. There is no room for interference.”

‘Important areas’ of ‘one country, two systems’ under threat, UK foreign secretary says in report

He said the UK’s remarks would only lead to resentment among Chinese citizens.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to Chinese rule in 1997 after 150 years.

Under the “one country, two systems” formula, Hong Kong is allowed a high degree of autonomy until 2047, even though incidents such as the missing booksellers saga of 2015 sparked fears about the erosion of civil liberties and freedoms.

In his latest six-monthly report to the UK parliament, Johnson cited cases in the second half of 2017 that were seen as a threat to the principle, such as a British activist who was denied entry into Hong Kong, and the ousting of lawmakers over an oath-taking saga in the city’s legislature. 

Britain has no power to intervene. There is no room for interference
Lu Kang, Chinese foreign ministry

Johnson also expressed concern over the so-called co-location plan for the high-speed cross-border rail link that would allow the application of mainland laws in parts of the West Kowloon terminus. 

He called on Beijing and Hong Kong authorities to “ensure that the established constitutional framework for any change to the Basic Law (Hong Kong’s mini-constitution) is respected”.

Responding to media inquiries, a Hong Kong government spokesman said later on the same day: “Since the return to the Motherland, the HKSAR has been exercising a high degree of autonomy and ‘Hong Kong people administering Hong Kong’ in strict accordance with the Basic Law.

“This demonstrates the full and successful implementation of the one country, two systems principle, which has been widely recognised by the international community.

“Foreign governments should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs of the HKSAR.”

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Last September, Johnson warned that “important areas” of the one country, two systems model were under increasing pressure, citing reports of mainland security officials operating in the city and Beijing’s increasing influence.

Johnson said in the foreword of his latest report that “while one country, two systems generally functions well ... the increasing pressure I described in the foreword of my last six-monthly report has continued in the second half of 2017”.

He also said on Thursday that the British government had “consistently raised” its concerns with Chinese and Hong Kong authorities. 

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In October, the Chinese ambassador to the UK was summoned by the British Foreign Office after Benedict Rogers, a British activist known for raising concerns about political freedom and human rights in Hong Kong, was refused entry to the city.

Johnson said: “I paid close attention to the denial of entry to Hong Kong of Ben Rogers ... Beijing’s involvement in this case has strengthened our view that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is under increasing pressure.”

On Hong Kong’s rule of law, Johnson said that in the second half of 2017, “a large number of cases related to the political system came before Hong Kong’s courts, including the disqualification of a further four legislators”. 

He was referring to the disqualifications of pro-democracy lawmakers Lau Siu-lai, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung and Edward Yiu Chung-yim for improper oaths of office. The legal battle was mounted by the Hong Kong government.

“The judiciary in Hong Kong remains in high esteem,” Johnson added. “It will be vital that the Hong Kong ... government is seen to use the system of justice fairly in all cases.”

Referring to Chinese President Xi Jinping’s pledge that the one country, two systems principle would be implemented “unswervingly”, Johnson said: “It is vital that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is seen to be respected in full, allowing the people of Hong Kong and its authorities to tackle important issues for themselves, in accordance with the [1984 Sino-British] Joint Declaration”.