The Hong Kong government has said it “vehemently refutes the slandering remarks and ill-intentioned political attacks” of a UK government report criticising the administration and Beijing for the declining human rights and freedoms in the city.

The six-monthly report, released on Thursday, detailed political developments in Hong Kong and gave a timeline of “significant developments” between January and June last year, including the 2022 Chief Executive Election, as well as the arrests of the trustees of defunct protester relief fund 612 Humanitarian Relief Fund.

The six-monthly report on Hong Kong
UK’s six-monthly report on Hong Kong published on January 12, 2023. Photo: UK Gov, via screenshot.

The UK government criticised Chinese and Hong Kong authorities for “undermining the rights and freedoms promised to Hong Kongers under the Sino-British Join Declaration,” and wrote that the city’s autonomy was “declining.”

There was “no doubt” that Beijing was “failing to comply” with the joint declaration, which was signed in 1984, according to the British government. The treaty outlined arrangements of Hong Kong’s Handover to China and listed principles including the One Country, Two Systems model of governance, which promises the city a high degree of autonomy.

The report also said that the “chilling effect” of the Beijing-imposed national security law, which was enacted in June 2020, “seeps into all aspects of society.”

Scores of pro-democracy activists have been arrested under the law. Civil society groups and independent news outlets have also disbanded, citing the legislation that critics say has been weaponised to suppress opposition in the city. Authorities, however, maintain that the law has restored order in Hong Kong.

“Freedoms are being systematically eroded by Beijing on multiple fronts, tightening the restrictions on the lives of ordinary Hong Kongers,” the report read.

chinese hong kong flags national day patriotic
Photo: Lea Mok/HKFP.

The UK government said it would “work constructively” with Chief Executive John Lee where possible, but “will judge the Hong Kong government based on its actions.”

The Hong Kong government, in a statement published on Thursday night, said it urged the UK to “respect the basic norms governing international relations and stop interfering in the affairs of the HKSAR.”

‘Mutual respect’

In response to the UK’s indication that it would work with Lee, the Hong Kong administration said that it already maintained ties with different countries and regions, on the premise of “mutual respect of the ‘one country, two systems’ principle and not to smear or slander the successful application of such principle nor interfere with the affairs of the HKSAR.”

The Commissioner’s Office of China’s Foreign Ministry in Hong Kong also hit back at the UK report, and said it “strongly condemned” the British government for smearing the national security law and the city’s electoral system, and “unreasonably slandered international legal principles and basic rules of international relations.”

Chief Executive John Lee meeting the press on January 10, 2023
Chief Executive John Lee. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

The office also said that the UK government was “interfering in and destroying” Hong Kong’s rule of law, and that the report made the world “see clearly [the UK’s] hypocrisy and double standards.”

“The UK said that they are defending the rule of law, but they use their ‘spell’ every half a year, and play the ‘judge card’ and the ‘BNO card’ to interfere with Hong Kong affairs, even interfering and destroying Hong Kong’s rule of law,” the office’s statement on Thursday night read.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.