China accuses Nick Clegg of interfering in internal affairs over Hong Kong
Deputy PM meets with activists over concerns Chinese plans could jeopardise Joint Declaration on Hong Kong handover.
Nick Clegg said he would not shy away from promoting democracy in Hong Kong after China accused him of interfering in its internal affairs. The deputy prime minister incurred an angry response from Beijing by meeting two leading activists from the former British colony. He held talks this week over concerns that Chinese plans could jeopardise the 1984 agreement over the handover of the city back to China, which gave Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy and let it keep its capitalist system for 50 years after the transfer in 1997.
But campaigners such as Anson Chan and Martin Lee who met Mr Clegg yesterday say those guarantees are being eroded.
After the meeting, Clegg backed calls for Hong Kong’s leader to be directly elected.
“The UK remains fully committed to the Joint Declaration and we will not shy away from defending the principle of ‘One Country, Two Systems’,” he said.
“This Government believes that the best way to preserve Hong Kong’s strengths and to ensure that it continues to prosper is through a transition to universal suffrage which meets the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong.
“The important thing is that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice and feel that they have a real stake in the outcome of the 2017 election.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei said: “The UK’s actions are an interference in China’s internal affairs. China expresses strong dissatisfaction. China urges the UK side to earnestly respect China’s stance and concerns, abide by its promises…and take practical efforts to safeguard China-UK relations and bilateral co-operation.”
The spat comes just weeks after a visit to the UK by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang – the latest stage in a painstaking diplomatic rehabilitation effort after relations were plunged into deep freeze by David Cameron’s decision to meet exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama.
Clegg is said to have been “nonplussed” by the failure of any senior Conservatives to meet the campaigners – with sources close to the deputy prime minister accusing his coalition partner of being “so deferential” to Beijing over trade that they dare not publicly commit to upholding the 1984 agreement.
The year before the handover, then Tory prime minister John Major declared: “If in the future there were any suggestion of a breach in the Joint Declaration, we would mobilise the international community and pursue every legal and other avenue open to us
A spokesman for Clegg said: “The deputy prime minister is keen to hear opinions from all sides of the debate on constitutional reform in Hong Kong.
“Engagement with Anson Chan and Martin Lee is consistent with our efforts to encourage all sides to engage in constructive dialogue.”
Asked about China’s complaint, the prime minister’s official spokesman said: “I wouldn’t put it that way at all.”
Hong Kong was referred to in the joint communique issued after the Premier’s recent visit, he said. “There are a series of issues on which we engage closely with the Chinese government.”
- The Guardian,