Beijing fired a volley of rebuttals at a British minister yesterday, saying no foreign government or official should meddle in Hong Kong's affairs.
The central leadership slammed British foreign office minister Hugo Swire for his remarks - published in the South China Morning Post at the weekend - that it was important for local voters to have genuine choice on the road to democratisation.
The Ministry for Foreign Affairs, its office in Hong Kong and English-language state newspaper Global Times all rounded on Swire on the one day, soundly rebuffing London's offer of support for a "smooth resolution" to the quest for universal suffrage.
Beijing's vigorous reaction added to the double dose of rebuffs delivered by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor over the weekend.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei expressed "strong displeasure" and "staunch opposition" during a regular media briefing in Beijing.
"The British foreign minister published an article in [Hong Kong] media, publicly making irresponsible remarks," Hong said. "The Chinese government is strongly displeased and staunchly opposed to it."
In the opinion piece published on Saturday, Swire, a minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, wrote that Britain "stands ready to support" its former colony as it "takes its commitment under the Sino-British Joint Declaration very seriously" in protecting the rights of Hongkongers.
Hong also pointed to colonial history to reject Swire's words. "Hong Kong had been under chronic colonial rule. After the handover, the Basic Law has sufficiently protected the basic rights and freedom of Hongkongers," he said. "We urge Britain to immediately stop any form of interference in Hong Kong's internal affairs."
Hong's words echoed an online statement issued by the ministry's Hong Kong office earlier yesterday.
"Regarding the question of Hong Kong's constitutional development, no foreign government or official should meddle in it or make presumptuous comments, not to mention interfere with [it]," the statement said. "We do not need any so-called 'support' from foreign countries.
"We hope the relevant country will be cautious about its speech regarding Hong Kong's constitutional development, and not damage the city's prosperity and stability."
The Global Times, a tabloid affiliated with the People's Daily, called London's act "unwise" in a front page article.
Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, an international relations scholar at Baptist University, said Beijing had "overreacted".
"According to international experience, the best Britain can do is to nudge," said Chan, also a Civic Party legislator. "A more common approach is to speak on the issue or to discuss the subject on international platforms."
Professor Albert Chen Hung-yee, a member of the Basic Law Committee under the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said London probably did not understand the Chinese government's way of thinking. "They might have talked about assistance out of goodwill, but the move backfired," he said.