China re­buffs crit­i­cism of de­ci­sion to bar Bri­tish ac­tivist from Hong Kong

The Guardian Australia - - World News - Ben­jamin Haas in Hong Kong and Tom Phillips in Bei­jing

China has re­buffed crit­i­cism of its de­ci­sion to bar a prom­i­nent Bri­tish ac­tivist from Hong Kong, declar­ing it­self un­shak­ably op­posed to for­eign in­ter­fer­ence in the for­mer colony’s af­fairs.

Speak­ing a day af­ter the Con­ser­va­tive hu­man rights cam­paigner Bene­dict Rogers was re­fused en­try to the fi­nan­cial hub, Hua Chun­y­ing, a spokesper­son for China’s for­eign min­istry, said de­ci­sions about who was al­lowed to en­ter were a mat­ter of Chi­nese sovereignty.

“Hong Kong has been back un­der Chi­nese con­trol since 1997 so its af­fairs are an en­tirely do­mes­tic mat­ter. The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is ab­so­lutely op­posed to any for­eign gov­ern­ments, or­gan­i­sa­tions or in­di­vid­u­als in­ter­fer­ing with Chi­nese do­mes­tic af­fairs in any way. Our stance on this is un­shak­able,” Hua told re­porters in Bei­jing.

Re­fer­ring to Rogers, a vo­cal critic of China’s poli­cies in Hong Kong, she added: “This man must have been very clear as to whether he in­tended to in­ter­fere with the af­fairs of the spe­cial ad­min­is­tra­tive re­gion and the in­de­pen­dence of Hong Kong’s ju­di­ciary when … he flew into Hong Kong.”

Hua also re­jected Bri­tish crit­i­cism of the de­ci­sion to bar Rogers, for which the for­eign sec­re­tary, Boris John­son, said he was seek­ing an ur­gent ex­pla­na­tion. “The Chi­nese gov­ern­ment has lodged a solemn rep­re­sen­ta­tion to its Bri­tish coun­ter­parts,” Hua said.

Rogers re­sponded by say­ing Bei­jing’s “very alarm­ing” state­ment un­der­lined how Hong Kong’s free-

doms were be­ing eroded. “China has now re­vealed its hand. The world ought to have wo­ken up a long time ago,” he told Reuters.

Hong Kong’s chief ex­ec­u­tive, Car­rie Lam, had ear­lier im­plied that Bei­jing had been be­hind the de­ci­sion to bar the ac­tivist and at­tacked UK politi­cians over what he called un­fair po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence.

She did not, how­ever, say why Rogers had been turned away at the bor­der and re­peat­edly re­fused to dis­close de­tails of his case.

“The cen­tral peo­ple’s gov­ern­ment is re­spon­si­ble for for­eign re­la­tions,” she said on a ra­dio pro­gramme. “I hope you can all un­der­stand … You need to look at whether the im­mi­gra­tion process in­volves for­eign af­fairs,.”

Hong Kong is in charge of its own im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy un­der an ar­range­ment known as “one coun­try, two sys­tems”, ne­go­ti­ated as part of the city’s han­dover from the UK back to China in 1997. Bei­jing has promised Hong Kong a high de­gree of au­ton­omy.

Lo­cal politi­cians and ac­tivists, how­ever, say the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment is tight­en­ing its grip on the city, crack­ing down on dis­sent and work­ing to si­lence op­pos­ing voices.

Dur­ing her ra­dio in­ter­view, Lam also lashed out at Bri­tish politi­cians who have spo­ken out. “Some com­men­ta­tors and politi­cians in Bri­tain have been very un­fair to Hong Kong,” she said. “They have at­tacked our le­gal sys­tem, and said that the judges have been in­ter­fered with po­lit­i­cally. They have to­tally for­got­ten that we have an in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary.”

John­son said he had re­quested an ur­gent ex­pla­na­tion from the Hong Kong and Chi­nese gov­ern­ments, and Chris Pat­ten, the last colo­nial gover­nor, said the in­ci­dent was dis­turb­ing.

Hong Kong’s le­gal sys­tem is in­creas­ingly seen by ob­servers as a tool of the gov­ern­ment. Three prom­i­nent pro-democ­racy ac­tivists were jailed in Au­gust and the courts have re­moved six MPs from of­fice over the past year.

Ray Chan, a pro-democ­racy MP, was ejected from the leg­isla­tive coun­cil cham­ber dur­ing a ques­tion and an­swer ses­sion with Lam the day af­ter Rogers was banned. He held up a photo of Rogers and shouted: “Don’t play dumb, Bei­jing should not in­ter­fere with Hong Kong’s im­mi­gra­tion pol­icy.”

“Our gov­ern­ment at least has a re­spon­si­bil­ity to give a clear ex­pla­na­tion on this is­sue,” Chan said later. “If there’s any in­ter­fer­ence from the Bei­jing gov­ern­ment, at least she should tell the pub­lic in­clud­ing Hong Kong so­ci­ety and the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment and the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.”

Rogers, who pre­vi­ously lived in the city, planned to visit friends and hold pri­vate meet­ings with ac­tivists when he was stopped at the bor­der. Im­mi­gra­tion staff in­ter­viewed him and then es­corted him to a plane de­part­ing for Bangkok. He said the or­deal ex­posed “yet another ex­am­ple of the ero­sion of ‘one coun­try, two sys­tems’”.

De­mo­sisto, a pro-democ­racy po­lit­i­cal party led by the jailed ac­tivist Joshua Wong, also urged the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment and in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to do more.

“The Chi­nese au­thor­i­tar­ian arm clamp­ing down on lib­er­ties and hu­man rights will only ex­tend should they be left unchecked, and will only af­fect more and more for­eign cit­i­zens,” the party said in a state­ment.

“We con­demn the Chi­nese gov­ern­ment’s in­ter­ven­tion and the Hong Kong gov­ern­ment for deny­ing a Bri­tish ci­ti­zen the right to en­ter Hong Kong … this is a sign of se­ri­ous sup­pres­sion of hu­man rights, fur­ther erod­ing the frame­work of ‘one coun­try, two sys­tems’.”

Ad­di­tional re­port­ing by Wang Zhen

Pho­to­graph: Bene­dict Rogers

Bene­dict Rogers ad­dress­ing a pro-democ­racy protest out­side the FCO in Au­gust.

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