British lawmakers want China envoy summoned over Hong Kong ban

Richard Ottaway (above), chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that China's refusal to allow lawmakers to visit Hong Kong was "an insult" to Britain. -- PHOTO: AFP
Richard Ottaway (above), chairman of the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, said in a statement that China's refusal to allow lawmakers to visit Hong Kong was "an insult" to Britain. -- PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (REUTERS) - A group of senior lawmakers said on Wednesday that China's refusal to allow them to visit Hong Kong was an insult to Britain and called on the government to formally summon China's ambassador over the issue.

Last month, China said members of parliament's foreign affairs committee would not be allowed to enter Hong Kong as part of their inquiry into Britain's relations with its former colony and progress towards democracy there.

In an escalating row in the following days, Prime Minister David Cameron said the decision was mistaken, prompting China to accuse Britain of interfering in its internal affairs.

Britain says it has raised the problem with China through several channels. But the foreign affairs committee said it thought London's response had not gone far enough.

"The Chinese government's decision to prevent the Foreign Affairs Committee entering Hong Kong is an insult to the House of Commons and the UK as a whole," Richard Ottaway, the committee's chairman, said in a statement.

"The British government should react more strongly to this unprecedented and overtly confrontational act, including by summoning the Chinese Ambassador to the FCO (Foreign Office)."

In a report published on Wednesday, the committee also called on the government to raise the issue with its European Union partners and to make formal written protests to government officials in Beijing and Hong Kong.

The British parliament held a three-hour emergency debate over the ban last week, with members warning it would damage relations between London and Beijing at a time when economic and trade ties between the two are becoming closer.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under a deal which allowed it to keep its wide-ranging freedoms and autonomy.

But recent moves by Beijing to control nominations for a 2017 vote for Hong Kong's leader have prompted two-and-a-half months of protests in the city, including road blockades and sporadic violent scuffles.

On Wednesday, Hong Kong urged pro-democracy protesters to leave their main camp near government headquarters, saying it could not promise there would be no "confrontations" when the site is cleared on Thursday.