China has accused the U.K. of “groundless slanders” after the British government said Beijing’s crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong wasn’t in compliance with a treaty that paved the way for the city’s return to Chinese control.

“The U.K. has no sovereignty, jurisdiction or right of ‘supervision’ over Hong Kong after the handover, and it has no so-called ‘obligations’ to Hong Kong citizens,” China said in a statement posted Sunday on the website of its London embassy. “No foreign country or organization has the right to take the Joint Declaration as an excuse to interfere in Hong Kong affairs, which are China’s internal affairs.”

The statement came after U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab on Saturday said China is in a “state of ongoing noncompliance” with the 1984 treaty that paved the way for Hong Kong’s return to Chinese control. His remarks have gone further than previous comments by the U.K., which had called the changes a breach in the declaration.

In recent days, Chinese lawmakers approved an overhaul of the city’s election system that threatens to stack its legislature with pro-Beijing loyalists. The move was the culmination of a series of steps to curb challenges to Chinese rule, including passage of a national security law that led to the arrest of dozens of democracy activists and prompted many to flee the city.

The election overhaul “is part of a pattern designed to harass and stifle all voices critical of China’s policies and is the third breach of the Joint Declaration in less than nine months,” Raab said. The U.K. decision was a “demonstration of the growing gulf between Beijing’s promises and its actions.”

The statement gave no indication of what the U.K. government would do if China doesn’t return to compliance with the Joint Declaration.

“The U.K. will continue to stand up for the people of Hong Kong,” Raab said. “China must act in accordance with its legal obligations and respect fundamental rights and freedoms in Hong Kong.”

China fired back in a 500-word statement asserting its control over the city. “Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China,” it said. “How to design and improve its electoral system is purely China’s internal affair and brooks no external interference.”

There was little London could do aside from voicing its displeasure, said Tim Summers, an assistant professor specializing in U.K.-China relations at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“The U.K. does not have any leverage to do much more,” he said. “There is no chance that Beijing is going to change course on the electoral reforms in Hong Kong because of the views of Western governments.”

China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office also responded to a statement by the Group of Seven nations that expressed “grave concerns” at the changes in the city’s electoral system.

The G7 statement “distorts facts and makes irresponsible comments,” which are in violation of the international law and the norms of international relations, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said Sunday, calling it a “gross interference” in internal affairs.

Hong Kong was a British colony for more than 150 years until its return to China in 1997 after the two countries signed the Joint Declaration. The agreement gave control back to China in return for the city maintaining a “high degree” of autonomy. Yet under President Xi Jinping, China has moved to tighten its grip on the city; the crackdown accelerated after massive pro-democracy demonstrations broke out in 2019.

After passage of the national security law, the U.K. responded by offering a path to British citizenship for eligible Hong Kong residents.

China’s overhaul of Hong Kong’s legislature will give Beijing virtual veto power in the selection of the city’s leaders. China said the national security law was necessary to punish acts of secession, subversion of state power, terrorist activities or collusion with foreign entities. Dozens of opposition figures, including media tycoon Jimmy Lai and former student leader Joshua Wong, have been jailed under the law.

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