China said on Wednesday Britain has had no moral responsibility for what happens in Hong Kong since its return to China, as the two countries argue about Beijing’s ban on a group of British members of parliament visiting the city.
The British parliament held a three-hour emergency debate over the ban on Tuesday, with members warning it would damage relations between London and Beijing.
The row has escalated since Sunday, when the chairman of the British parliament’s foreign affairs committee said he had been told by Chinese embassy officials that his delegation would be refused entry to Hong Kong to monitor progress towards democracy.
Protesters have been on the streets of Hong Kong for more than two months, calling for greater democracy in their city, a British territory which returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a “one country, two systems” formula that allowed it to keep wide-ranging freedoms and autonomy.
Chinese Foreign Ministry Hua Chunying, asked to comment on whether Britain still had any responsibility for Hong Kong as a signatory to the agreement to hand it back to China, said that was not the case.
“Britain has no sovereignty over a Hong Kong that has returned to China, no authority and no right to oversight. There is no such thing as a moral responsibility,” she told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
“The real aim of a small minority of British people trying to use so-called moral responsibility to obscure the facts is to interfere in China’s internal affairs. Such an attempt cannot succeed, and is something China certainly cannot accept.”
Moves by Beijing to control nominations for a 2017 vote for Hong Kong’s leader have prompted the weeks of protests.
On Monday, thousands of democracy activists forced the temporary closure of the city’s government headquarters and clashed with police.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited London in June to strengthen diplomatic and economic ties, which had been frosty since 2012 when British Prime Minister David Cameron met the Dalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader who Beijing says is a dangerous separatist.