British MPs have cancelled a visit to Shanghai after China denied a visa to one of them who led a debate in a parliamentary hall on the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, The Guardian reported Tuesday.
The Chinese embassy in London had demanded that Richard Graham, a Conservative MP, make a statement clarifying his thinking after the debate.
The MPs, who had been due to leave on Tuesday morning for the three-day visit to Shanghai, gave the embassy an ultimatum: grant Graham, who chairs Parliament’s all-party China group, a visa or their trip would be cancelled.
The embassy failed to agree to their demands by 5 p.m. on Monday.
Hugo Swire, the Foreign Office minister with responsibility for the Asia-Pacific region, was reportedly involved in talks to try to save the trip and avoid a diplomatic row.
But some members of the delegation felt the Chinese embassy was interfering in a wholly unacceptable way in Britain’s internal affairs, the newspaper said. Their attitude was described as regretful rather than angry.
The trip was part of the UK-China Leadership Forum.
A Foreign Office spokesman said: “The UK-China Leadership Forum has an important role in UK/China relations. We have raised this with the Chinese government and sought an explanation of their decision to deny a visa.”
The Great Britain-China Centre, which organised the trip, is independent of the government, the Guardian said.
Graham, a former diplomat who served at the British embassy in Beijing and as the British consul in Macau when it was a Portuguese colony in the late 1980s, used the debate in Westminster Hall on Oct. 22 to voice support for some of the Hong Kong protesters’ demands.
He told MPs Britain had a duty to uphold the principles of the 1984 joint declaration by Britain and China, which led to the return of Hong Kong to China in 1997. In the declaration China agreed to maintain “freedom under the law, an independent judiciary, a free press, free speech and the freedom to demonstrate”.
Graham said: “If we allow any of those freedoms to be curtailed and if we say nothing about any dilution of Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy, whether deliberate or inadvertent, we risk colluding in Hong Kong’s gradual – not immediate – decline, helping others in Asia who would swiftly take any opportunity at Hong Kong’s expense, and we would not be fulfilling the commitments that John Major, Robin Cook and, most recently, our prime minister have re-emphasised in the clearest terms.”
He tried to reassure Beijing about one of its main concerns: that outside powers were orchestrating the protests.
“It is my belief that most of those in Hong Kong who feel most strongly about the issues around the election of the next chief executive represent a new generation of Hong Kongers. They were mostly born after the joint declaration,” said Graham, who was living in Hong Kong at the time of the 1984 declaration and the 1997 handover.
“They are not, as has sometimes been claimed, ancient colonial sentimentalists or those left by dark foreign forces to create disturbance after the colonialists had gone, but a new generation with a different take on life from their predecessors.
“They are more sure of their Hong Kong identity, less sure of their future prospects and less trustful of government or leaders in whose appointment they still feel they do not have enough say.”
Graham ended his speech by saying: “We have no interest, no advantage or no conceivable selfish purpose in any form of car crash with Hong Kong’s sovereign master, China.
“Rather, it is in all our interests, but particularly those of Britain and China in fulfilling the joint declaration, that Hong Kong continues to thrive and prosper, in a different world from that of 1984 or even 1997.”
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