Beijing urged the UK on Wednesday to stop interfering in China’s internal affairs after London suspended future sales of tear gas and other crowd-control equipment to Hong Kong amidst allegations of police brutality against protesters this month.
“The UK has repeatedly made irresponsible remarks and interfered with Hong Kong affairs,” said Geng Shuang, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry. “China expresses strong dissatisfaction and resolutely opposes this; we demand the UK immediately stop interference of any kind in Hong Kong and China’s internal affairs.
Hong Kong has been embroiled in massive protests with organisers estimating millions in the streets to demand officials withdraw an extradition bill that would send suspects for trial in China, where the ruling Communist Party controls the courts.
Clashes with police left dozens injured after authorities used rubber bullets, water cannons, bean bag rounds and batons to disperse protesters in the former British colony.
Police also appear to have fired tear gas made by British defence contractor Chemring Defence, now known as PW Defence, to disperse protesters, according to Amnesty International, a human rights group, putting pressure on the UK government to review its arms export licenses.
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On Tuesday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt – who is campaigning to be the next prime minister – said that new export licenses would not be approved until human rights concerns were “thoroughly addressed.”
“We remain very concerned with the situation in Hong Kong and I raised those concerns with the chief executive [Carrie Lam] on the 12th of June,” Mr Hunt said. “I today urge the Hong Kong government to establish a robust independent investigation into the violent scenes that we saw.”
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said earlier this month the allegations showed the need for a “root and branch” reform of arms exports.
“If exported items from the UK are being used for internal repression of protest in any country, that is a clear breach of the rules on arms exports licences,” she said.
“The use of tear gas against civilians is shocking, and we want the UK government to prevent any further supplies of crowd control equipment supplied to Hong Kong that risks being used to threaten legitimate protests,” said Oliver Feeley-Sprague, Amnesty International UK’s military, security and police programme director.
PW Defence did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Hong Kong protests against extradition bill, in pictures
More protests are planned in Hong Kong with a big showing likely on July 1, which marks the anniversary of Britain handing the territory back to Beijing in 1997.
Demonstrators have also urged world leaders to bring the issue up this weekend at the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan. But Beijing has repeatedly said that it won’t allow what it considers a domestic concern to be raised on the global stage.
Although Hong Kong city leaders have said they would suspend the bill for now it has not been completely withdrawn, which is the main demand from protesters.
Many fear the bill will finally snuff out Hong Kong’s allure as a global financial hub and undermine rule of law – the city has long enjoyed freedoms not seen elsewhere in China given an agreement meant to last 50 years when it was ceded back to China.
But a string of recent changes have sparked fears that those liberties are disappearing. Since 2017, Beijing has pressured city authorities to squash dissent by expelling elected officials, jailing activists and outlawing political parties.
Events with dissident artists and writers have also been axed, and outspoken professors have lost university contracts without explanation.