China has barred British Foreign Office committee from entering Hong Kong
Committee chairman described move as "overtly confrontational"
Group is holding inquiry into how Joint Declaration is monitored
Comes as clashes intensify between Hong Kong protesters and police
Away from the urban frontline of Hong Kong’s democracy protests, the push for a free vote is straining diplomatic ties between China and the territory’s former colonial master, Britain.
British Prime Minister David Cameron was reported to have expressed concern on Monday about China’s refusal to allow a Foreign Affairs Committee entry to Hong Kong.
“This only amplifies concerns, rather than diminishing them,” said a spokesman for the prime minister, according to the Telegraph. “The reason that the prime minister thinks it is a mistaken decision is because it is counter-productive,” the spokesman added.
An emergency debate will be held in the House of Commons on Tuesday to discuss the Chinese ban.
The committee had planned to travel to Hong Kong in late December to assess “British diplomatic work” in the Chinese territory, amid increasingly heated scenes between pro-democracy campaigners and police.
For the past two months, protesters have blocked busy roads in the city, establishing tent communities with the aim of pressuring the Hong Kong government to talk.
After an initial round, the government declined further talks and has urged the protesters – mostly students – to abandon their action.
Protesters are opposing the government’s plans to allow a committee to select a short-list of candidates for the role of chief executive in 2017. They want a free and fair vote.
In a regular press briefing on Monday, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying took issue with comments from committee chairman Sir Richard Ottoway, who on Friday described the Chinese decision to ban the group as “overtly confrontational.”
“China said many times to Britain it resolutely opposed the so-called delegation of the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee going to Hong Kong for a so-called investigation and asked they cancel the visit.”
“If certain British MPs are bent on doing this, that’s what is meant by overt confrontation and this is not beneficial for Sino-British ties,” she added.
In a statement the British Foreign Office said the Chinese ban was “regrettable” and “not consistent with the positive trend in UK-China relations over the past year.” It said it had communicated that to the Chinese ” at the most senior levels.”
Ottoway said on Monday that the group would not be pressured by the Chinese government to abandon its inquiry, “nor are we going to cancel plans to hear from people in Hong Kong,” he said.
He said China’s Deputy Ambassador to the UK Ni Jian had told him: “Hong Kong came back to China 17 years ago, it is a Chinese territory and we oppose any interference in its internal affairs.”
Ottoway also said he was told the delegation “may send the wrong signals to the figures of ‘Occupy Central’” and “shows some encouragement for illegal actions.”
The inquiry, which began in July, will examine how the British Foreign Office “monitors” the Joint Declaration signed between the UK and China 30 years ago when the countries agreed the transfer of Hong Kong from British to Chinese rule.