British report warns Beijing is increasing pressure on Hong Kong’s basic rights and freedoms

Foreign Office says city is generally stable but some protests ‘more volatile’ than usual

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 8:01am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 April, 2018, 8:01am

The British government has warned of Beijing’s increased pressure on basic rights and freedoms in Hong Kong and “more volatile” street demonstrations that have caused clashes between police and protesters.

These points were not in the annual Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Overseas Business Risk report on the city last year.

Published on the government’s website on Monday, this year’s document on doing business in the city contained eight sections covering topics such as government, human rights, the economy and the threat of terrorism.

It said while basic rights and freedoms were generally well respected in Hong Kong, there were “some concerns that the increased influence of the [central government] had led to increased pressure on many of them in recent years”.

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And while the city was generally a stable society underpinned by the rule of law, with demonstrations typically being peaceful and orderly, it noted that “some have been more volatile than usual, resulting in confrontations between police and protesters”.

“You should avoid areas where protests and unplanned public gatherings are taking place if possible, monitor and follow the instructions of the local authorities and take sensible precautions against petty crime if you are nearby,” the report said.

Britain has no power to intervene
Lu Kang, Chinese foreign ministry

In the section on government, the report described political discourse in the city as being “dominated by questions surrounding the constitutional relationship between [Hong Kong] and mainland China, with pro-Beijing and pro-democracy camps highly polarised”.

No examples were given, but last month British foreign secretary Boris Johnson cited instances of how the “one country, two systems” governing formula – under which Hong Kong gets freedoms not enjoyed by those on the mainland – was under threat.

The examples included in his six-monthly report to the British parliament were the ousting of lawmakers over an oath-taking saga in the city’s legislature, and 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.

Johnson called on Beijing and Hong Kong authorities to respect the “established constitutional framework for any change” to the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

In response, China told Britain to back off.

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

On Tuesday, the British consulate in Hong Kong said information in the guides had been included “on the basis that it will be useful to exporters”.

Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu called on the central government to exercise self-restraint in the city’s affairs, so that Hong Kong could continue to have the confidence of foreign investors.