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In a phone call with British Foreign Secretary Dominc Raab on Monday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi warned the British official against “interference in China’s domestic affairs.”
Wang implored Britain to respect China’s sovereignty and “tread very carefully” with matters involving Hong Kong.
“The Chinese side hopes Britain … will respect China’s rights to exercise sovereignty and the Chinese central government’s rule over Hong Kong according to the ‘one country, two systems’ principle,” said Wang.
“Britain must exercise extra prudence on this matter.”
Raab has previously expressed the United Kingdom’s “deep concern” with China’s proposed national security law, labeling it “authoritarian.”
In an oral statement to parliament last Tuesday, he asked China to reconsider and “step back from the brink,” to respect Hong Kong’s autonomy and China’s international obligations under the Sino-British Joint Declaration.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also vowed on June 3 that he would implement “one of the biggest changes in our visa system in British history” if China were to implement the security law. The revision would open up avenues toward British citizenship for up to three million Hong Kongers.
He added that the UK had “no choice but to uphold [their] profound ties of history and friendship with the people of Hong Kong.”
Johnson’s announcement received “strong dissatisfaction and opposition” from China.
Zhao Lijian, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, accused Johnson of making “reckless” comments and “groundless” accusations.
“We urge the UK side to pull back before it’s too late, abandon its Cold War and colonialist mentality, and understand and respect the fact that Hong Kong has returned to Chinese rule,” said Zhao.
He also stressed that the UK has no legal right or obligation to meddle in Hong Kong’s affairs, saying that “since the handover, the legal grounds for China’s governance of Hong Kong has been based on the constitution of the People’s Republic of China and the Basic Law of Hong Kong, rather than the Sino-British Joint Declaration.”
Cui Hongjian, a senior research fellow and director of the Department of European Studies at the China Institute of International Studies, attributed the opposing stances between the UK and China to a “very different understanding … of the Hong Kong issue.”
“[China] see it as an internal matter because the historical issue of Hong Kong has been solved, while Britain still sees itself as having a role and obligations in monitoring the situation in Hong Kong,” Cui added.
The present tensions fall against the backdrop of the two governments’ already souring relations, despite declaring in 2015 that they were entering a “new golden era” in their partnership.
The UK is reportedly drawing up plans to reduce the role of Chinese telecommunications company Huawei in the country’s 5G network development, with the aim to sever relations completely by 2023.
There have also been attempts to expedite plans for a bill that would tighten controls over Chinese corporate takeovers, after citizens expressed concern over the growing influence of Chinese investors in the UK’s post-Brexit economy.
Last week it was also announced that Britain, along with seven other countries including the United States and European Parliament, had joined The Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) – an international coalition formed to counter challenges posed by China’s growing global influence.
However, despite the potential economic consequences that a failing relationship would bring to the UK, some still believe that the cost is justified.
Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative Party leader and co-founder of IPAC said, “We shouldn’t give way to threats like this. The moment a country starts threatening you, it’s a country that you therefore shouldn’t be doing business with.”
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