Beijing tells Britain it has no ‘moral responsibility’ for Hong Kong

Remarks come after ambassador told UK lawmakers Joint Declaration is 'void'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 December, 2014, 10:42am
UPDATED : Saturday, 12 September, 2015, 11:52pm

Beijing has dismissed the notion that Britain has any moral responsibility for Hong Kong after 1997, shortly after a top Chinese diplomat claimed the Joint Declaration that settled the city's future was already "void".

The war of words has continued after Beijing blocked a delegation of British lawmakers from entering the former colony.

Asked whether Britain still had any responsibility for the city as a signatory to the agreement, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said that was not the case.

"Britain has no sovereignty over Hong Kong that has returned to China, no authority and no right to oversight. There is no such thing as a moral responsibility," she said yesterday. "The real aim of a small minority of British people trying to use so-called moral responsibility to obscure the facts is to interfere in China's internal affairs. [This] cannot succeed, and is something China certainly cannot accept."

The British parliament held a three-hour emergency debate on Tuesday over the ban, with MPs warning it would damage ties between London and Beijing.

China and Britain signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration in 1984, setting out the terms of Hong Kong's return to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. After the treaty was signed, it was registered at the United Nations by the Chinese and British governments on June 12, 1985.

Richard Ottaway, the chairman of the British Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, said during the emergency debate that Ni Jian, deputy Chinese ambassador to Britain, had conveyed the message on Friday that the Joint Declaration "is now void and only covered the period from the signing in 1984 until the handover in 1997".

Simon Young Ngai-man, a University of Hong Kong law professor, said Ni's use of the word "void" was bewildering. "This is clearly wrong and quite remarkable that we are hearing this only for the first time now, 17-1/2 years after the handover," he said. "It's wrong because paragraph 7 of the Joint Declaration states that the 'government of the UK and the government of the PRC agree to implement the preceding declarations and the Annexes to this Joint Declaration'," Young said.

Under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, such pacts can be invalidated for error, fraud, corruption, coercion or conflict with a peremptory norm, none of which applies to the Joint Declaration. Nor do any of the conditions for terminating, suspending, denunciating or withdrawing from a treaty, he said.

The minister responsible for Hong Kong affairs, Hugo Swire, told MPs: "As a cosignatory, the United Kingdom has a legal interest and a moral obligation for the monitoring and implementation of that treaty." He continued: "It is vital it is fully upheld … [and] to pursue dialogue on issues, even where we disagree."


Additional reporting by Reuters