China has rebuffed criticism of its decision to bar a prominent British activist from Hong Kong, declaring itself unshakably opposed to foreign interference in the former colony’s affairs.
Speaking a day after the Conservative human rights campaigner Benedict Rogers was refused entry to the financial hub, Hua Chunying, a spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, said decisions about who was allowed to enter were a matter of Chinese sovereignty.
“Hong Kong has been back under Chinese control since 1997 so its affairs are an entirely domestic matter. The Chinese government is absolutely opposed to any foreign governments, organisations or individuals interfering with Chinese domestic affairs in any way. Our stance on this is unshakable,” Hua told reporters in Beijing.
Referring to Rogers, a vocal critic of China’s policies in Hong Kong, she added: “This man must have been very clear as to whether he intended to interfere with the affairs of the special administrative region and the independence of Hong Kong’s judiciary when … he flew into Hong Kong.”
Hua also rejected British criticism of the decision to bar Rogers, for which the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, said he was seeking an urgent explanation. “The Chinese government has lodged a solemn representation to its British counterparts,” Hua said.
Rogers responded by saying Beijing’s “very alarming” statement underlined how Hong Kong’s freedoms were being eroded. “China has now revealed its hand. The world ought to have woken up a long time ago,” he told Reuters.
Hong Kong’s chief executive, Carrie Lam, had earlier implied that Beijing had been behind the decision to bar the activist and attacked UK politicians over what he called unfair political interference.
She did not, however, say why Rogers had been turned away at the border and repeatedly refused to disclose details of his case.
“The central people’s government is responsible for foreign relations,” she said on a radio programme. “I hope you can all understand … You need to look at whether the immigration process involves foreign affairs,.”
Hong Kong is in charge of its own immigration policy under an arrangement known as “one country, two systems”, negotiated as part of the city’s handover from the UK back to China in 1997. Beijing has promised Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy.
Local politicians and activists, however, say the Chinese government is tightening its grip on the city, cracking down on dissent and working to silence opposing voices.
During her radio interview, Lam also lashed out at British politicians who have spoken out. “Some commentators and politicians in Britain have been very unfair to Hong Kong,” she said. “They have attacked our legal system, and said that the judges have been interfered with politically. They have totally forgotten that we have an independent judiciary.”
Johnson said he had requested an urgent explanation from the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, and Chris Patten, the last colonial governor, said the incident was disturbing.
Hong Kong’s legal system is increasingly seen by observers as a tool of the government. Three prominent pro-democracy activists were jailed in August and the courts have removed six MPs from office over the past year.
Ray Chan, a pro-democracy MP, was ejected from the legislative council chamber during a question and answer session with Lam the day after Rogers was banned. He held up a photo of Rogers and shouted: “Don’t play dumb, Beijing should not interfere with Hong Kong’s immigration policy.”
“Our government at least has a responsibility to give a clear explanation on this issue,” Chan said later. “If there’s any interference from the Beijing government, at least she should tell the public including Hong Kong society and the British government and the international community.”
Rogers, who previously lived in the city, planned to visit friends and hold private meetings with activists when he was stopped at the border. Immigration staff interviewed him and then escorted him to a plane departing for Bangkok. He said the ordeal exposed “yet another example of the erosion of ‘one country, two systems’”.
Demosisto, a pro-democracy political party led by the jailed activist Joshua Wong, also urged the British government and international community to do more.
“The Chinese authoritarian arm clamping down on liberties and human rights will only extend should they be left unchecked, and will only affect more and more foreign citizens,” the party said in a statement.
“We condemn the Chinese government’s intervention and the Hong Kong government for denying a British citizen the right to enter Hong Kong … this is a sign of serious suppression of human rights, further eroding the framework of ‘one country, two systems’.”
Additional reporting by Wang Zhen