Outgoing British Consul-General for Hong Kong says city's independence 'doesn't make any sense'

Protesters march along a road during a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong on July 1, traditionally a day of protest which also marks the anniversary of the handover from Britain to China in 1997. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Outgoing British Consul-General for Hong Kong Caroline Wilson has reiterated that Britain does not support the city breaking away from China, saying independence "has never been an option" for the city, Hong Kong media reported.

Speaking to Hong Kong media in an interview last week, Ms Wilson said Britain had made clear its stand on the idea of Hong Kong's independence from China.

"It doesn't make any sense, quite frankly," Ms Wilson told the Hong Kong Free Press news website on Aug 30, commenting on the idea of Hong Kong's independence from China.

Her comments echoed those made by then British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond in a visit to the city in April, when he said independence was not a practical option for Hong Kong. But he said the ongoing discussion on the issue was an "inevitable consequence of frustration from the inability to find a way to move forward with constitutional reform", the South China Morning Post reported on April 8.

Britain handed Hong Kong back to China in 1997 under the One Country, Two Systems framework, which was intended to provide the city with a high degree of autonomy and protection of its freedoms for 50 years.

Mr Hammond said the issue of Hong Kong independence had been discussed by the British government in the 1980s and it had concluded then that "independence is not a practical option". That view, he said, is one that Britain's present day administration still holds.

"We believe that 'One Country, Two Systems' is the right future as it benefits the people of Hong Kong and China," the South China Morning Post quoted him as saying.

The calls for Hong Kong's independence from China has grown louder since the 79-day Occupy Central protests two years ago that saw thousands, mainly students, agitating for greater democracy and autonomy.

Some of the young activists who were involved in the 2014 protests have gone on to form parties and are contesting in the city-wide legislative polls on Sunday, the first major election since the demonstrations.

With around 90 per cent of the votes counted on Monday, the results showed several of the young pro-democracy activists forecast to win seats, becoming lawmakers for the first time.

Ms Wilson's comments also come amid concerns of Beijing's growing interference in various sectors, including in schools. The Hong Kong government in a warning earlier this month said teachers could face losing their qualifications if they advocated independence for Hong Kong in the city's schools.

Commenting on the issue, Ms Wilson said she believed in the importance of young people having the freedom of debate but said that must be done with respect for the law.

"Sometimes it's really important to debate things, but all has to be done with respect for the law and the broader constitutional framework in Hong Kong," she added.

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