LONDON (Reuters) - A group of senior British lawmakers said on Wednesday that China’s refusal to allow them to visit Hong Kong was an insult and called on the government to formally summon China’s ambassador over the issue.
Last month, China said members of parliament’s foreign affairs committee would not be allowed to enter Hong Kong as part of their inquiry into Britain’s relations with its former colony amid two months of pro-democracy street protests.
In an escalating row in the following days, Prime Minister David Cameron said the decision was mistaken, prompting China to accuse Britain of interfering in its internal affairs.
Britain says it has raised the problem with China through several channels. But the foreign affairs committee said it thought London’s response had not gone far enough.
“The Chinese government’s decision to prevent the foreign affairs committee entering Hong Kong is an insult to the House of Commons and the UK as a whole,” Richard Ottaway, the committee’s chairman, said in a statement.
“The British government should react more strongly to this unprecedented and overtly confrontational act, including by summoning the Chinese Ambassador to the FCO (Foreign Office).”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said that no foreign government or individual had the right to get involved in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.
“Certain British members of parliament should stop their meaningless hype,” he told reporters in Beijing.
In a report published on Wednesday, the committee also called on the government to raise the issue with its European Union partners and to make formal written protests to government officials in Beijing and Hong Kong.
The British parliament held a three-hour emergency debate over the ban last week, with members warning it would damage relations between London and Beijing at a time when economic and trade ties between the two are becoming closer.
Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a deal which allowed it to keep its wide-ranging freedoms and autonomy.
But recent moves by Beijing to control nominations for a 2017 vote for Hong Kong’s leader prompted two-and-a-half months of protests in the city, including road blockades and sporadic violent scuffles.
Hong Kong authorities were clearing the main pro-democracy protest site near the heart of the financial center on Thursday.
Reporting by Kylie MacLellan; Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Andrew Osborn