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China accuses Britain for intervening in its ‘internal affairs’ in Hong Kong

Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambasador to U.K., gestures while speaking during an interview.

Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg | Getty Images

The diplomatic spat between China and the United Kingdom spilled into the open this week, after Beijing criticized the British government for “gross interference” in the Hong Kong protests.

The Chinese ambassador to the U.K. Liu Xiaoming said Wednesday that the British government had  “issued inappropriate statements, intervened in Hong Kong affairs and encouraged violent lawbreakers,” according to a CNBC translation.

He said he was “disappointed” with British Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt whom he said had “expressed support for the lawbreakers.”

Beijing firmly opposed the U.K.’s “gross interference” in China’s internal affairs, Liu said at a press conference in London. “I think Foreign Secretary Hunt is dead wrong about freedom. This is not a question of freedom.”

For nearly three weeks, political tensions in Hong Kong have escalated over a proposed extradition bill that would allow those arrested in the territory to be sent to mainland China for trial. Hong Kong citizens were concerned that their civil rights could be slowly eroded under Beijing.

Responding to violence that broke out in Hong Kong when a group of protesters stormed a government building, Hunt said on Tuesday that the territory’s government should “listen to the legitimate concerns of the people of Hong Kong about their freedoms.”

Hunt defended himself on Thursday, saying:  “I was not supporting the violence in Hong Kong.”

“Let me clear what I said. I said that I condemned, and we as the United Kingdom, condemn all violence and that people who supported the pro-democracy demonstrators would have been very dismayed by the scenes they saw,” Hunt told BBC radio, according to Reuters.

I tell them: hands off Hong Kong and show respect. This colonial mindset is still haunting the minds of some officials or politicians

Liu Xiaoming

Chinese ambassador to the U.K.

An English editorial published on Wednesday by state newspaper China Daily said:  “Britain no longer has any responsibility for the governance of Hong Kong or any supervisory rights.”

“Ideologues in Western governments never cease in their efforts to engineer unrest against governments that are not to their liking, even though their actions have caused misery and chaos in country after country in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East and Asia,” said the newspaper, a mouthpiece for the Chinese government. “Now they are trying the same trick in China.”

Britain’s Foreign Minister Jeremy Hunt shakes hands with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi.

Andy Wong-Pool | Getty Images

Liu said the latest diplomatic rift between the two countries has damaged their friendship, and pointed out that Hong Kong is no longer part of Britain.

“Hong Kong is still seen by some as a former British colony. But the reality is that Hong Kong has returned to the motherland, and it is a special administrative region of China, not part of the British territory,” he added.

“I tell them: hands off Hong Kong and show respect. This colonial mindset is still haunting the minds of some officials or politicians,” Liu told reporters.

Reiterating his point that issues related to Hong Kong is a “internal affair,” Liu suggested the British government should respect the “one country, two systems” model — where the territory’s legal system is independent from the rest of China.

“They should treat Hong Kong as a part of China. We are willing to talk to them,” Liu said in Mandarin. “There is no issue with the U.K. and Hong Kong remaining economic, trade and cultural ties, and I hope that Hong Kong can remain as the bridge between China and the U.K.”

For his part, Hunt said in a tweet that  “the best way to preserve the great relationship between the U.K. and China” is to have “mutual respect” and honor “legally binding agreements between them.”

— Reuters contributed to this report.

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