LONDON (AFP) - Former colonial ruler Britain urged the Hong Kong government to "listen to the concerns of its people" amid violent protests on Wednesday (June 12) against plans to allow extraditions to mainland China.
"The ongoing protests in Hong Kong are a clear sign of significant public concern about the proposed changes to extradition laws. I call on all sides to remain calm and peaceful," Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said in a statement.
"I urge the Hong Kong government to listen to the concerns of its people and its friends in the international community and to pause and reflect on these controversial measures."
"It is essential that the authorities engage in meaningful dialogue and take steps to preserve Hong Kong's rights and freedoms and high degree of autonomy, which underpin its international reputation."
"Upholding the principle of 'One Country, Two Systems', provided for in the legally binding Sino-British Joint Declaration, is vital to Hong Kong's future success."
Britain handed control of Hong Kong back to China in 1997 on the basis of the Joint Declaration it signed with Beijing, which guarantees freedoms in the semi-autonomous city until 2047.
Violent clashes broke out in Hong Kong on Wednesday as police tried to stop protesters storming the city's Parliament, while tens of thousands of people blocked key arteries in a show of strength against government plans to allow extraditions to China.
Police used tear gas, rubber bullets and batons to disperse crowds of black-clad demonstrators - most of them young people and students - calling on the authorities to scrap the Beijing-backed law.
Speaking in Parliament, British Prime Minister Theresa May said London was concerned about the potential effect of the proposals, particularly given the large number of UK citizens in Hong Kong.
"We have been unequivocal in our views," she told MPs.
"It is vital that those extradition arrangements are in line with the rights and freedoms that were set down in that... Joint Declaration."
Foreign Office Asia minister Mark Field told Parliament on Monday that Britain fears a "chilling effect" on Hong Kong freedoms if the extradition laws are approved.
He said Britain "remains acutely aware" of its enduring responsibilities towards Hong Kong through the Joint Declaration.
"Many fear, above all, that Hong Kong nationals and residents risk being pulled into China's legal system, which can involve lengthy pre-trial detentions, television confessions and an absence of many of the judicial safeguards that we see in Hong Kong," Mr Field said.
"The changes that they have proposed fail to address fully a number of the core issues that we and others have raised."