Foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt toughened his stance on China today over the Hong Kong protests, warning the superpower there would be “serious consequences” for breaking an agreement guarding citizens’ rights and freedoms.
Hunt warned he would not simply “gulp and move on” if China breached a joint declaration dating back to 1984.
“It’s very important that the one country, two systems approach is honoured,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“China is a country that has benefited massively from the application of a rules-based international system.
“To not honour this very important agreement between the UK and China of course would have consequences for China as well as for the UK.”
His comments come after Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming yesterday reacted with fury to the UK’s stance on the protests against the introduction of a law enabling Hong Kong to extradite citizens to stand trial in China.
“The UK government chose to stand on the wrong side,” Liu said. “It has made inappropriate remarks not only to interfere in internal affairs of Hong Kong but also to back up the violent lawbreakers.”
Some protesters smashed their way into Hong Kong’s government headquarters on Monday, breaking glass walls and vandalising paintings.
That came after Hong Kong citizens voiced their anger in mass peaceful protests over the proposed bill.
Thousands of protesters urged the government to throw out the bill after leader Carrie Lam suspended it.
Hunt said Hong Kong’s authorities must tackle the root causes of the protests over the mooted extradition law.
Citizens had feared the bill would override Hong Kong’s prized rule of law.
China has a history of pursuing political prosecutions through its courts system.
Hunt insisted the UK and China can maintain good relations despite the Chinese ambassador’s outburst yesterday over the political crisis.
Liu said relations had suffered amid the row, and told the UK to keep its “hands off Hong Kong and show respect”.
The protests took place on the 22nd anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China after 156 years of British rule.
Yesterday Hunt told Channel 4 that there would be repercussions if China did not respect the terms of the handover agreement.
“The point we are making is very simply that if that agreement between the United Kingdom and China was not honoured, then there would be serious consequences,” he said.
Hunt summoned Liu to the Foreign Office – seen as a rebuke – following his comments.
Hunt’s Tory leadership rival Boris Johnson echoed the foreign secretary’s support for the protesters yesterday, saying he would “back them every inch of the way”.
All images credited to Getty