U.K. Calls In Chinese Ambassador Over Hong Kong Protests

The U.K. government summoned China’s ambassador to express support for pro-democracy protesters in Hong Kong who are demanding free and open elections in the former British territory.

U.K. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told Sky News television he intends to tell the envoy, Liu Xiaoming, of his “dismay and alarm at the way in which the Chinese authorities in Beijing seem determined to refuse to give to the people of Hong Kong what they are perfectly entitled to expect.”

Hong Kong, which the U.K. handed back to China in 1997, is experiencing waves of demonstrations over its future governance. After weekend clashes with riot police who used tear gas to disperse crowds, student leaders said today the protests would spread unless China meets their demands for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to resign and for the government in Beijing to drop plans to control the territory’s 2017 leadership election.

Clegg’s move steps up British backing for the protesters after Prime Minister David Cameron called on China earlier today to honor a 1984 bilateral agreement under which Hong Kong was intended to move to universal suffrage in 2017.

“Universal suffrage means what it says on the tin,” Clegg said. “It means everybody can vote, and everybody can vote for the candidates they want. Not for candidates that have been screened and preselected by the authorities in Beijing.”

With so many young people demonstrating in Hong Kong, it’s important that “we say very loud and clear that we are on their side,” Clegg said.

Freedoms Guaranteed

Anson Chan, the highest-ranking civil servant under the last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, said earlier this year that some Hong Kong people viewed the U.K. as having failed to speak out over China’s handling of its former colony.

“The basic agreement that we set out with the Chinese all those years ago should be stuck to,” Cameron told ITV News today from his Conservative Party’s convention in Birmingham, central England. “That did guarantee particular freedoms to the people of Hong Kong -- freedom of speech, freedom to demonstrate and the maintenance of the free enterprise system.”

Thousands of people packed the streets of Hong Kong today waving mobile phones, umbrellas and singing songs as they listened to speeches by protest leaders, who put the crowd at 100,000.

The protests -- spurred by China’s decision last month that candidates for the 2017 leadership election must be vetted by a committee -- pose the biggest challenge to China’s control of the city since 1997.

“All of us share the goal of a stable and successful Hong Kong and its high degree of autonomy” said Richard Graham, the Tory lawmaker who heads Parliament’s all-party group on China. “There is real concern about the amount of choice the people of Hong Kong will have in choosing their next chief executive and I am sure the Hong Kong government will use its second consultation to ensure a wide choice that satisfies most within China’s Basic Law.”

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