Britain warned Thursday of “increasing pressure” on Hong Kong from an assertive Beijing after a raft of jailings of democracy activists and the disqualification of rebel lawmakers from the city’s legislature.
The comments come after President Xi Jinping was given a lifetime mandate as leader, signalling a harder line on any challenges to Chinese sovereignty across its territories.
Since being handed back to China by Britain in 1997 semi-autonomous Hong Kong has enjoyed rights unseen on the mainland, such as freedom of speech and an independent judiciary.
But there are increasing concerns those liberties are under threat.
Britain’s foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the denial of entry to Hong Kong in October of British human rights activist Benedict Rogers had fuelled the UK’s concern.
“Beijing’s involvement in this case has strengthened our view that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is under increasing pressure,” Johnson said in the UK’s regular six-monthly report on the city.
He also emphasised the importance of a free and fair judiciary after the jailings of leading pro-democracy activists on protest-related charges and the ousting from the legislature of four rebel lawmakers after an intervention from Beijing.
Johnson said that while the judiciary “remains in high esteem” it was vital the government was “seen to use the system fairly in all cases”.
Hong Kong has come under increased pressure from Beijing since mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014 brought parts of the city to a standstill.
The rallies failed to win political reform and since then activists have emerged calling for self-determination or full independence from China, infuriating Beijing.
Johnson reiterated Britain’s opposition to the notion of independence for Hong Kong, saying it was not a “viable option” within the semi-autonomous deal enshrined in the handover agreement.
However he urged the local government and Chinese authorities to respect the city’s mini-constitution.
Plans to bring part of a new Hong Kong railway station under mainland law have been called unconstitutional by critics, who say authorities are bypassing the proper legal procedures to push through Beijing-backed initiatives.
“I believe it is vital that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy is and is seen to be respected in full, allowing the people of Hong Kong and its authorities to tackle important issues for themselves,” Johnson said.
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