China’s ambassador accused Britain of running a two-faced Hong Kong policy of feigning neutrality while covertly backing and encouraging the violent protesters who have assaulted police with petrol bombs.
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In a strongly worded attack on Western policy, Liu Xiaoming said Britain and the United States were guilty of publicly supporting “extreme violent offenders” and warned they risked lifting the stone of interference “only to drop it on their own feet” if it continued to do so.
Speaking at the Chinese Embassy on Monday, he said Hong Kong was “sliding into an abyss of chaos” and accused pro-democracy protesters of subjecting local residents to a “black terror.”
He went on to say that he believed the movement, which has brought protesters onto the streets every week since June, doesn’t aim to achieve democracy but Hong Kong’s independence from China and that it was being fuelled from abroad.
“External forces that have indulged and fanned violence in Hong Kong cannot absolve themselves of the responsibility for the recent escalation of violence,” said Mr Liu.
“The British government and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House of Commons published China-related reports making irresponsible remarks on Hong Kong,” he said on Monday.
“What is worse, certain British politicians even planned to present an award to a chief propagandist for Hong Kong independence who had instigated extreme violence,” he said.
“We urge these forces to stop interference… and stop condoning violent offences. Otherwise, they would lift the stone only to drop it on their own feet,” he added.
Asked by the Telegraph whether he was accusing the British government of covertly supporting the violent protest movement and Hong Kong independence, he said: “When the British government criticises the Hong Kong police they are interfering.
“They pretend to be balanced, but they are taking one side,” he added.
“As far as independence is concerned, we appreciate the statements of British officials that independence is not acceptable,” he said.
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Protests erupted in Hong Kong in June when the city’s government proposed a law that critics said would erode the common-law liberties the city enjoys under the “one country, two systems” arrangement agreed when Britain returned the colony to China in 1997.
Britain has warned China not to use the protests as a pretext to abolish Hong Kong’s limited democratic freedoms. China insists that it respects the one country two systems settlement but cannot tolerate violence or or secession.
Tom Tugenhadt, the chairman of the Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, has called on the government to extend full citizenship to Hong Kong residents with British Nationals Overseas status to provide them with protection in the event of a violent crackdown.
In September 130 MPs wrote to Boris Johnson in support of the idea.
The BNO passport, with its burgundy cover and coat of arms, looks like a regular British passport but doesn’t provide holders the right to live and work in the UK, long a point of contention.
Mr Liu said Beijing still has full faith in the ability of the Hong Kong authorities to manage the situation in the island city, in a signal that China is not yet ready to send in the army to quell the demonstrations.
He said he hoped that local elections scheduled for Sunday would go ahead as planned. But he said the the central Chinese government would not “sit on our hands” if the situation ran “out of control,” including by sending in the People’s Liberation Army.
“We have enough power to end the unrest,” he said.
Mr Tugendhat said: “Ambassador Liu Xiaoming is right – the violence in Hong Kong is very worrying and must end. Calling for an end to violence isn’t foreign interference, it’s defending the joint declaration.”
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesperson said: "We need to see an end to the violence, and for all sides to engage in meaningful political dialogue ahead of the District Council elections on Sunday.”