On Saturday, China celebrated 20 years since the United Kingdom handed back over control of Hong Kong. The day before, China’s Foreign Ministry said that the agreement that laid the groundwork for that historic handover was now worth nothing more than the paper that it was written on.
In the lead up to the 20th handover anniversary, both the UK and the US released official statements voicing their concerns about the recent erosion of core freedoms in Hong Kong, which were supposed to be protected under the “one country, two systems” framework, first guaranteed under the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration that laid out how the colony would end more than 150 years of British rule while remaining a free and open society as a Chinese territory.
However, on Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang struck back at these remarks, ominously calling into question the importance today of that historic agreement.
“Now Hong Kong has returned to the motherland’s embrace for 20 years, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any practical significance, and it is not at all binding for the central government’s management over Hong Kong,” Lu said. “The UK has no sovereignty, no power to rule and no power to supervise Hong Kong after the handover.”
The UK quickly returned fire, replying that the declaration “remains as valid today as it did when it was signed over 30 years ago.”
“It is a legally binding treaty, registered with the UN and continues to be in force. As a co-signatory, the UK government is committed to monitoring its implementation closely,” British Foreign Office spokeswoman said on Friday.
This back and forth came just before the official handover anniversary ceremony on Saturday at which Chinese President Xi Jinping watched as Carrie Lam was sworn in as the territory’s next chief executive while protests raged on elsewhere in the city. Lam was chosen for the position back in March by a 1,194-member pro-Beijing committee.
At the ceremony, Xi laid out a warning to forces, both foreign and domestic, that tried to interfere with China’s rule in Hong Kong, drawing a “red line” and threatening consequences for those who tried to cross it.
“Any attempt to endanger national sovereignty and security, challenge the power of the central government and the authority of the Basic Law of the HKSAR or use Hong Kong to carry out infiltration and sabotage activities against the mainland is an act that crosses the red line, and is absolutely impermissible,” he said.
To show that he meant business, Xi paid a visit earlier in the week to a PLA garrison near the border, taking part in the largest military demonstration Hong Kong had seen in two decades.
Though, the Chinese president also showed off his softer side while in town, singing along to “Ode to the Motherland” at a gala on Friday.
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