LONDON (Reuters) - British lawmakers banned from entering Hong Kong last year said Chinese regulations were eroding freedoms in the former British colony and urged their government to take a harder stance against Beijing.
Pro-democracy protests shut down parts of Hong Kong for two-and-a-half months last year in response to a decision by China to pre-screen candidates in a 2017 election that will choose the city’s next chief executive.
On Friday a report by the British parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee said China’s new nomination process was “unduly restrictive”.
The report highlighted what it called a “troubling pattern” of limitations being imposed on the autonomy and freedoms negotiated for Hong Kong 30 years ago when Britain and China agreed a deal to hand it back to Beijing.
“We are concerned that this high degree of autonomy is coming under pressure, and the FCO (British foreign office) needs to take a clear stand,” said committee chairman Richard Ottaway.
China lambasted the report, which the official Xinhua news agency called “absurd” and “regrettable” in an English-language commentary.
“Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China‘s, and Hong Kong’s affairs are purely an internal matter for China,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a daily news briefing.
“Britain has no right to interfere and absolutely has no so-called ‘responsibility’ for Hong Kong.”
The Hong Kong government said it was committed to implementing universal suffrage in accordance with local laws and a decision last summer by China’s parliament.
It also said that freedom of expression and of the press are legally guaranteed in Hong Kong and it “will not interfere with the internal operations of media organizations”.
In November the British lawmakers found themselves at the center of a diplomatic spat after they were banned from entering Hong Kong to research their report, which is focused on Britain’s relations with its former colony.
“We remain profoundly disappointed with the UK government’s mild response to that unprecedented act, and we think the FCO should be clearer in stating its expectations for Hong Kong’s political and constitutional future,” Ottaway said.
Reporting by William James; Additional reporting by Clare Baldwin in HONG KONG and Ben Blanchard in BEIJING; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alan Raybould