June 17 (Bloomberg) -- Hong Kong’s former No. 2 official called on the U.K. to honor its obligations to protect the rights of people in its former colony, as Prime Minister David Cameron welcomes his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang today.
Anson Chan, Hong Kong’s top civil servant in the final years of the colonial government and the first four under Chinese rule, said the U.K. should stand by promises made thirty years ago when it signed the Sino-British Joint Declaration outlining terms for transferring sovereignty.
Chan, 74, said that as co-signatory to an international treaty, the U.K. had “a legal and moral responsibility” to defend the agreement, which promises the city a high degree of autonomy. China’s cabinet last week released a policy document stressing Beijing’s complete authority over Hong Kong, sparking criticism from pro-democracy parties on the island that said it was an abrogation of the treaty.
“I feel particularly upset and hurt because I did the selling whole-heartedly both before and after the handover,” Chan said of her role in assuring other countries of Hong Kong’s security. “Now I see that neither countries seem to be committed.”
The Joint Declaration, inked by the Chinese and British governments on December 19, 1984, set out the terms of Hong Kong’s return to Chinese sovereignty on July 1, 1997. It stipulates the island will be governed under the concept of “One Country, Two Systems” and enjoy a high degree of autonomy, excluding foreign affairs and defense.
Cameron is expected to focus on improving relations and increased trade ties between the countries during Li’s visit, which will see the Chinese premier meet Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle. It is the first visit by a Chinese premier in three years, since Beijing criticized Cameron’s decision to meet with the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.
At least $30 billion of deals in industries including energy and finance will be signed during the visit, which starts today. Li will be joined by more than 200 Chinese business leaders, including the chairmen of most of the country’s biggest banks.
The white paper on Hong Kong released last week by China’s State Council said the source of the city’s autonomy is the Beijing central government. The document stipulated that the city must have patriotic leaders and judges who put China’s interests first.
Chan said the document undermined the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, the island’s de-facto constitution, that was developed through negotiations based on the treaty.
“Clearly China has growing economic clout; everybody wants to trade with China, everybody wants to see Chinese investment, that has become the centerpiece of foreign policy so far as dealing with China is concerned,” Chan said in an interview today. “I would be very interested to see what public stance that the British government takes in regard to the white paper.”
Hong Kong is locked in a debate over how to elect its next leader in 2017. China has said it must vet any nominees while activists have threatened protests if the public isn’t allowed to nominate candidates.
To contact the reporter on this story: Ting Shi in Hong Kong at firstname.lastname@example.org
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Rosalind Mathieson at email@example.com Neil Western, Tan Hwee Ann