The top British envoy in Hong Kong has hit back at Beijing's warning that London should stay out of Hong Kong's politics, saying Britain has "a wide range of interests" in the city as a signatory to the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
British Consul General Caroline Wilson also stressed the importance of universal suffrage being on the basis of "a genuine choice".
Wilson was responding after China's foreign ministry commissioner in Hong Kong, Song Zhe, issued a statement over the weekend, asking Britain not to poke its nose into Hong Kong's constitutional reforms.
He said the reforms were Hong Kong's internal affair and Beijing was firmly against any meddling by "outside forces".
Song's warning followed a breakfast hosted by Wilson on Friday for five pan-democrats during which she was said to have expressed concerns about electoral reform and governance. She and Song had had afternoon tea the day before.
In response to Song's statement, a spokesman for the British consulate said: "The consul general regularly meets legislators and other stakeholders to discuss a range of issues, including political reform.
"As a signatory to the Sino-British Joint Declaration, the [United Kingdom] has a wide range of interests in and ties with Hong Kong. Frank discussions with stakeholders ensure the [British] government has the best possible understanding of the current situation."
Referring to the meetings with Song and the pan-democrats last week, the spokesman added: "In her discussions, the consul general consistently sets out [Britain's] position on constitutional reform; the detail of the system is for the people of [Hong Kong] and the governments of [Hong Kong and China], but the important thing is that universal suffrage is on the basis of a genuine choice."
Current affairs observer Dr Chung Kim-wah of Polytechnic University said the British reply was surprisingly "direct".
"Usually, consuls general would continue doing what they have been doing quietly despite some so-called warnings from China," Chung said.
He agreed that London, as a signatory of the Joint Declaration, had a responsibility to speak out if it saw something going wrong in Hong Kong.
Veteran China watcher Johnny Lau Yui-siu said: "You may say Beijing is overly sensitive. But it is its policy and it will continue to make criticisms, although I don't think it will have any big impact on the British or US governments' policies."