Hong Kong democrats hail 'honourable' British MPs for concern over eroding freedoms

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong's democrat lawmakers called British MPs "honourable" on Friday for highlighting concern over the erosion of freedoms by China in a new report - but said the city has to fight its own battles.

China announced in August last year that candidates running for the city's chief executive in 2017 - the first ever public vote for leader - would be vetted by a pro-Beijing committee. That decision sparked more than two months of mass pro-democracy rallies which brought parts of Hong Kong to a standstill.

A House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report released late on Thursday said the electoral proposals did not offer a "genuine choice" to the people of Hong Kong. The committee's report also said the city could face a "crisis of governance" unless tensions over how it is ruled are resolved.

"It's the first honourable thing that the British have done in this Hong Kong fight for democracy," said Mr Alan Leong of Hong Kong's Civic Party.

Lawmaker Albert Ho of the Democratic Party also welcomed the report. "I can't agree more with what they have said, they have certainly spoken out the truth," pro-democracy legislator Albert Ho told AFP.

British MPs from the committee were barred from entering Hong Kong by China in December to research the report, with Chinese officials accusing them of acting like a colonial power.

Britain handed the city over to China in 1997 under a joint declaration signed in 1984 which guaranteed political, social and economic freedoms not enjoyed on the Chinese mainland.

The British government has been criticised by some campaigners for failing to heed fears over increased Chinese influence on the city.

British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that there was still an opportunity for "a meaningful step forward for democracy", despite Beijing's restrictions, in a biannual report on the former colony published last week.

Civic Party legislator Claudia Mo said that she hoped the new Foreign Affairs Committee report would now "exert some pressure on the existing British administration on the Hong Kong question".

But lawmakers added that the city could not rely on foreign support to force change.

"We in Hong Kong cannot count on and depend on any foreign powers, British included, to help us to get what we want in terms of real democracy," Mr Leong said.

Hong Kong authorities have said that the 2017 public vote must be held "strictly in accordance" with Beijing's framework.

A second round of public consultation on the vote is due to end on Saturday and a proposal for how the 2017 election will be carried out is due to be put before the city's legislature in the coming months.

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