China has been quick to jump on comments by a retired aide to former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher, purporting to belittle the ongoing democracy protest in Hong Kong, The Telegraph reported Tuesday.
The comments by Lord Powell, who served as Thatcher’s private secretary, were picked up by the Chinese state news agency Xinhua in an article entitled “Overseas politicians show disapproval of Hong Kong’s Occupy Central movement”.
The article was based on a far-ranging interview Powell gave to the BBC in which parts of the transcript were redacted, according to The Telegraph.
“People have a right to peaceful protest and by and large the protests have been peaceful but they are also unrealistic,” the former diplomat also told the BBC.
“Demonstrating is a right but it is better to demonstrate when you’ve got an achievable objective.”
Xinhua did not reproduce those comments in mainland China, where demonstrating is not a right and where dozens of activists and lawyers have been detained or jailed as part of an ongoing crackdown on dissent, the report said.
Coverage of the protest in China’s heavily controlled state media has been negative. People’s Daily, Beijing’s official mouthpiece, has dismissed the protest as “illegal behavior”.
In comments likely to upset the tens of thousands of protesters who have taken to Hong Kong’s streets, Lord Powell suggested its youth should “focus on making the most of the very wide degree of freedom and autonomy” they already enjoy.
“It is a pity that there is perhaps this small black cloud there but that is life. It has been there a long time I don’t believe it is going to change,” Powell said.
He also hit out at Chris Patten, Hong Kong’s last colonial governor, who has criticised Beijing’s stance toward the former British colony.
“I think it is unhelpful to raise expectations in Hong Kong which are not going to be satisfied,” Lord Powell said.
“Hong Kong has very extensive autonomy — far greater than we believed actually could be achieved when the Hong Kong joint declaration with China was negotiated. They have had far better conditions, including political conditions, than any other city in China. But the bottom line is they are a city in China.”
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