China has reacted furiously to the United Kingdom's pledge to grant the people of Hong Kong a path to British residency and citizenship, threatening to block the move as the row over the security clampdown escalates.
The Chinese embassy in London accuses the British government of reneging on previous agreements and warns that Beijing reserves "the right to take corresponding measures" if the UK presses ahead with its plan.
On Wednesday in the House of Commons, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab outlined proposals to extend the rights of those eligible for British National Overseas (BNO) passports, paving the way potentially for around three million Hong Kong residents to move to the UK.
This came on a day which saw hundreds of pro-democracy protesters arrested in Hong Kong as police enforced a new security law, on the 23rd anniversary of the former British colony's handover to China.
Threat of 'corresponding measures'
In a statement on the Chinese UK embassy website on Thursday, the ambassador Liu Xiaoming castigates the British criticism of the new measures as "gross interference in China’s internal affairs" — adding that upholding national security in Hong Kong is China's responsibility.
"The UK has no sovereignty, jurisdiction or right of 'supervision' over Hong Kong after the handover," he says.
In a separate communique quoting an embassy spokesperson, the Chinese say that under joint memoranda "the British side declares that it will not confer the right of abode to Chinese citizens in Hong Kong who hold BNO passports".
"If the British side makes unilateral changes to the relevant practice, it will breach its own position and pledges as well as international law and basic norms governing international relations. We firmly oppose this and reserve the right to take corresponding measures," the statement adds.
The warning was reiterated by the foreign ministry in Beijing on Thursday. Spokesman Zhao Lijian said all Hong Kong residents, including BNO passport holders, were Chinese nationals -- and by making the naturalisation offer the UK was reneging on its commitments.
China's new security law has met with strong opposition within Hong Kong and brought condemnation from the UK, the EU, the US, and human rights groups.
Punishment for violating the measure can go as far as life in prison. It allows authorities to crack down on subversive and secessionist or terrorist activity in Hong Kong, as well as foreign intervention in the city's affairs — sparking fears that it would be used to curb opposition voices.
Even shouting slogans or holding up banners or flags calling for the city's independence is a violation of the law, regardless of whether violence is used.
China warns US too
In Washington on Wednesday, the House of Representatives joined the Senate in approving a bill to rebuke China over its crackdown in Hong Kong by imposing sanctions on groups that undermine the city’s autonomy or restrict freedoms promised to its residents.
Pro-Beijing legislators and dozens of supporters gathered outside the US Consulate in Hong Kong on Thursday to condemn US interference.
Zhao Lijian, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said no amount of pressure from external forces could “shake China’s determination and will to safeguard national sovereignty and Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability".
Speaking at a daily news briefing, he threatened "strong countermeasures" if the US bill became law.