China slams British warning over Hong Kong freedoms


Hong Kong (AFP)

China on Wednesday condemned a British report that expressed concern over eroding freedoms in Hong Kong, accusing the UK of having "ignored and distorted the truth" about the city.

Former British colony Hong Kong enjoys rights unseen on the Chinese mainland, including freedom of expression, which are protected in the handover agreement between China and Britain.

But in recent years, concern has grown in Hong Kong and abroad about its freedoms disappearing as Beijing tightens its grip on the semi-autonomous city.

In a report Wednesday, Britain's foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt said he was "concerned that on civil and political freedoms, Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy is being reduced".

Hunt cited recent moves by Hong Kong authorities including banning a pro-independence party, screening political candidates, and barring a Financial Times journalist who chaired a talk by an independence activist.

He described "recent pressure being applied on Hong Kong to move towards a mainland Chinese interpretation of civil and political freedoms, under which certain subjects are effectively off-limits for discussion and debate."

In response, China's foreign ministry in Hong Kong urged Britain to "stop interfering in China's internal affairs", state media said.

A spokesperson for the ministry's top official in Hong Kong said the "so-called report... ignored and distorted the truth by deliberately confusing the legitimate and lawful measures taken" to fight pro-independence forces and protect national security, Xinhua reported.

A separate spokesman for Hong Kong's government said it "reiterates that foreign governments should not interfere in any form in the internal affairs" of the semi-autonomous city.

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has previously criticised Britain's six-monthly reports on the former colony, noting they still continue "despite the unification".

British activist Benedict Rogers said it was "the first time that the (British) Foreign and Commonwealth Office have publicly stated so clearly and strongly in a six-monthly report that not all aspects of 'one-country, two-systems' are functioning well."

The latest report "reflects a serious deterioration of the situation on the ground," said Rogers, who founded Britain-based Hong Kong Watch and is deputy chairman of the governing Conservative Party's human rights commission.