As tensions between London and Beijing heightened in the last few days, triggered by China’s clampdown on Hong Kong, Chinese officials harshly condemned pronouncements made by the UK.
“The UK government keeps making irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong affairs,’’ said China’s London Ambassador Liu Xiaoming on Monday.
The UK sees the new security law in Hong Kong as a “clear and serious” violation of the terms agreed between London and Beijing before the UK gave back its one-time colony to China.
The UK government of Boris Johnson has announced that millions of Hong Kong residents who still hold British National (Overseas) passports would now be given a path to full UK citizenship.
Ambassador Liu slammed the UK offer and said China would decide on its response based on the UK’s action.
“This move constitutes gross interference in China’s internal affairs and openly tramples on the basic norms governing international relations,” he told reporters in London.
He said China would decide on its response after seeing how Britain proceeded with its passport offer.
Although Prime Minister Boris Johnson describes himself as a “Sinophile”, he has also spoken of the need to “stick up for our friends in Hong Kong”, straining relations with Beijing.
He has also toughened his language on a provisional decision to allow China’s Huawei to be involved in the development of Britain’s 5G infrastructure, saying he would protect critical infrastructure from “hostile state vendors”.
Johnson has faced intense pressure from the United States and some British lawmakers to ban the telecommunications equipment maker on security grounds and Britain’s media minister said on Monday the Huawei decision was not set in stone.
Liu said that, although China wanted friendly relations with Britain, there might be many consequences if Britain treated Beijing as an enemy or with suspicion.
“We want to be your friend. We want to be your partner. But if you want to make China a hostile country, you will have to bear the consequences,” he said.
He said a U-turn on its Huawei decision would damage Britain’s image as an open, business-friendly environment and it meant London had to “bounce to the tune of the other countries”.
“The China business community are all watching how you handle Huawei. If you get rid of Huawei it sends out a very bad message to other Chinese businesses,” Liu said.
In 2015, former British Prime Minister David Cameron heralded a “golden era” in bilateral relations with Beijing but these have soured amid growing dissent in Hong Kong. Liu said he hoped it was not over but Britain had to be careful how it characterised China.
“Whether it is over or not is not up to the Chinese side,” he said. “We have every reason to have good relations with the UK.”
Hong Kong returned to China on Jul 01, 1997, under a “one country, two systems” formula guaranteeing wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent judiciary. (Source: CNA)