Britain warns China to abide by one-country-two-systems rule ahead of anniversary protests

Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, has urged the Hong Kong authorities to respect the “rights and freedoms” of its citizens ahead of a huge protest against a controversial extradition bill on Monday, the 22nd anniversary of the handover of the former British colony to China.

Demonstrators are expected to flood the streets in the latest in a series of massive demonstrations against a draft bill that would allow alleged criminal suspects in the territory to face trial in China for the first time.

Under intense public pressure the draft law, which critics say threatens Hong Kong’s status as a global financial hub, was suspended on June 15 but not fully withdrawn as protesters had demanded.

“Recent protests in Hong Kong make it even more important on the anniversary of the handover to reiterate that the UK government’s commitment to the Sino-British declaration is unwavering,” said Mr Hunt.

The bilateral declaration was signed between the UK and China in 1984. It sets out a “one country, two systems” principle that guarantees Beijing’s communism will not be forced on Hong Kong and the city’s capitalist system and way of life will be preserved until 2047.

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“It is a legally binding treaty and remains as valid today as it did when it was signed and ratified over thirty years ago,” he said.

“It is imperative that Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, and the rights and freedoms of the Hong Kong people, are fully respected in line with the joint declaration and the Hong Kong basic law,” he added.

Beijing admonished the UK last week, telling it to stop interfering in China’s internal affairs after London suspended future sales of tear gas and other crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong amid allegations of police brutality against protesters.

However, the suspended law, which would have applied to foreign nationals living in or transiting through Hong Kong, has drawn widespread international criticism and generated a wider debate over the erosion of democracy and the rule of law.

Organisers of a historic demonstration on June 16 claim two million of Hong Kong’s seven million people took to the streets to protest the law, as well as demanding the resignation of Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s chief executive.

Hong Kong protests against extradition bill, in pictures

Ms Lam has not been seen in public for close to two weeks, while wildcat acts of civil disobedience have brought government business to a standstill.

One of the main protest groups, the Civil Human Rights Front (CHRF), said that a large turnout was expected again on Monday afternoon, starting their demonstration in the downtown Victoria Park and marching to the government headquarters two miles away.  

Bonnie Leung, the CHRF’s vice convenor, told Hong Kong media outlet, RTHK, that the government had been “arrogant” in ignoring protesters demands.

“[The] pressure in the society and also in the international community [was] obviously building up," she said, adding that lots of young protesters were still unhappy about the government’s lack of response.

Local media reports suggested that some 5,000 officers would be deployed to help guard the anniversary’s flag-raising celebrations. The police force was also spotted erecting water-filled barriers around access points to the venue.