Hong Kong, China, Sep 15 – Pro-democracy protesters rallied outside Britain’s consulate in Hong Kong on Sunday, demanding London do more to protect its former colonial subjects and ramp up pressure on Beijing over sliding freedoms.
Hundreds of demonstrators sang “God Save the Queen” and “Rule Britannia” outside the consulate, waving the Union Jack as well as Hong Kong’s colonial-era flags.
The once-stable international hub has been convulsed by weeks of huge, sometimes violent rallies calling for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.
The movement is the biggest challenge to China’s rule since the city was handed back by Britain in 1997 and shows no sign of ending, with local leaders and Beijing taking a hard line.
Under a deal signed with Britain ahead of the city’s 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong is allowed to keep its unique freedoms for 50 years.
Democracy activists accuse Beijing of reneging on those promises by tightening political control over the semi-autonomous territory and refusing calls for universal suffrage.
Many of the protest signs accused Britain of not doing enough to confront Beijing over its tightening grip on the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
“Sino-British Joint Declaration is VOID,” one read, referencing the 1984 agreement that paved the way for the city’s handover, a deal that Hong Kongers were given no say over.
“So far I’m quite disappointed by the fact that the UK hasn’t done anything to support us,” protester Alex Leung, a recent graduate, told AFP.
Many called for Hong Kongers who want to leave the city to be granted citizenship in Britain or other Commonwealth nations.
Some Hong Kongers were given British National Overseas (BNO) passports before the handover, a document that allows holders easy travel to the UK but grants no working or residency rights.
“At least with the full citizenship they can protect Hong Kong people from the Chinese government,” protester Anthony Chau, who holds a BNO passport, told AFP.
Earlier this week some 130 UK lawmakers signed a joint letter calling for Britain and Commonwealth countries to come up with an “insurance policy” for Hong Kongers to resettle overseas should they wish to.
– Britain treads carefully’ –
Hong Kong has been battered by nearly 100 days of protests, sparked by a now-abandoned plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.
China has portrayed the protests as foreign-funded, singling out Britain and the United States for criticism, although it has presented little evidence beyond supportive statements from some foreign politicians.
It has insisted Hong Kong — an international finance hub with a significant foreign population — is an entirely internal matter.
Britain has walked a careful path on the protests, keen to keep Beijing onside as a valuable trade partner, especially given the uncertainty thrown up by its imminent departure from the European Union.
But it has also expressed concerns about the direction Hong Kong has headed and says it has a duty to ensure Beijing upholds the deal it struck before the handover.
“The Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty between the UK and China that remains as valid today as it was when it was signed and ratified over 30 years ago,” a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said in June.
Democracy advocates have ramped up appeals to the international community in recent weeks, with prominent activists travelling overseas and crowd-funding used to print adverts in global newspapers.
Joshua Wong, a well-known activist, is currently in the United States and met Germany’s foreign minister earlier this week in Berlin — a trip that has infuriated Beijing.
Sunday’s protest outside the UK mission was significantly smaller than a huge march the week before to the United States consulate which saw tens of thousands turn out.
The pro-democracy movement has vowed to continue until key demands are met, including an inquiry into the police, an amnesty for those arrested and universal suffrage.
While fights have broken out between rival political camps in recent days, the last two weekends have seen much less intense battles between protesters and riot police.
But there are plans for further protests, especially come 1 October when leaders in Beijing are planning huge celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.