Britain and its allies have criticised China for allegedly silencing dissent in Hong Kong in violation of the country’s international obligations.
A statement signed by the foreign ministers of the UK, US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand – also known as the Five Eyes alliance – expressed “serious concern” after Beijing ordered the expulsion of four opposition MPs from the Hong Kong parliament.
The statement said: “China’s action is a clear breach of its international obligations under the legally binding, UN-registered Sino-British Joint Declaration. It breaches both China’s commitment that Hong Kong will enjoy a ‘high degree of autonomy’, and the right to freedom of speech.”
It comes a week after Dominic Raab said the move by Beijing represented a “clear breach” of the joint declaration which was supposed to guarantee the former colony a high degree of autonomy under Chinese rule.
The Foreign Secretary’s comments drew an angry response from Chinese ambassador Liu Xiaoming, who insisted the expulsions are “purely an internal affair” for China.
Mr Liu was summoned to the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) as UK diplomats sought to formally register the Government’s “deep concern” over Beijing’s actions.
Afterwards, he tweeted: “Hong Kong is China’s Hong Kong. No foreign country has the right to intervene in the matter.”
At the time, China’s actions were also condemned by the US, the European Union and Australia, with Mr Raab saying the UK would work with its allies to hold Beijing to its obligations under international law.
The Five Eyes statement on Thursday called on China to “stop undermining the rights of the people of Hong Kong to elect their representatives in keeping with the Joint Declaration and Basic Law”.
“For the sake of Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, it is essential that China and the Hong Kong authorities respect the channels for the people of Hong Kong to express their legitimate concerns and opinions,” the statement added.
“We urge the Chinese central authorities to re-consider their actions against Hong Kong’s elected legislature and immediately reinstate the Legislative Council members.”
The FCDO said it regards the latest breach as the third time Beijing has violated the provisions of the Joint Declaration since the handover of the former British colony to China in 1997.
The most recent previous occasion was last year when China imposed national security legislation, giving it sweeping powers to curtail protest and suppress dissent in the territory.
The four pro-democracy MPs were expelled from the legislative council after calling on foreign countries to impose sanctions on China in response to its crackdown on opposition.
It prompted the remaining opposition members to announce their mass resignation, leaving Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government led by chief executive Carrie Lam effectively unchallenged in the council.
The move was denounced by China’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office as “an open challenge” to the authority of the central government and the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s constitution.