‘Snubbed’ British minister meets Hong Kong leader
A senior British foreign office minister met with Hong Kong’s leader Friday after reportedly being snubbed in the wake of mass street
protests over a Beijing-backed electoral reform package.
The meeting between foreign office minister Hugo Swire and embattled Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying comes in the same week the UK released a report on the city, calling for the deeply divided political camps to “rebuild mutual trust”.
Swire was reportedly denied a meeting with the former British colony’s top officials during a visit in January, just after mass pro-democracy camps that had blocked major highways were cleared.
British MPs were also barred by China in December from entering the city to research a report on the political situation, with Chinese officials accusing them of acting as a colonial power.
A statement from Leung’s office said the two met Friday “to exchange views on issues of mutual concern”.
“Mr. Leung introduced to Mr. Swire the latest social and economic development in Hong Kong,” the statement said.
Swire tweeted he was: “Delighted to be back in Hong Kong,” and described the meeting with Leung as “constructive”.
The Hong Kong government’s plan to allow the public to vote for the city’s leader for the first time in 2017 was derided as “fake democracy” by protesters because it stuck to a ruling by Beijing that candidates must be vetted by a loyalist committee.
That ruling sparked mass street rallies for more than two months at the end of last year and the bill was finally voted down by opposition lawmakers last month.
In its regular six-monthly report on Hong Kong, published earlier this week, Britain urged the two sides to reconcile.
“We now believe it is imperative for all sides to re-establish communication and rebuild mutual trust to allow the constitutional reform process to be restarted,” the report said.
“This is crucial for the effective functioning of, and confidence in, One Country Two Systems”, it added, referring to a deal made on the handover of Hong Kong by Britain to China in 1997 which grants the semi-autonomous territory greater freedoms than on the mainland.
Hong Kong Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau also met Swire Friday.
“I asked him to support democratic elections,” she told AFP.
Swire had previously suggested that the strictly-controlled election offered by Beijing could be “better than nothing at all”.
Lau described those comments as “regrettable”.
The minister is a direct descendant of John Swire, founder of the business which later became the Swire Group, a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate which owns swathes of land in Hong Kong. The MP has previously said his “ties to Swire’s today are genetic but, sadly, not financial”.
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