China said on Friday that the joint declaration with Britain over Hong Kong, which laid the blueprint over how the city would be ruled after its return to China in 1997, was a historical document that no longer had any practical significance.

A Chinese national flag (L) and a Hong Kong flag fly outside the Legislative Council, three days before the territory celebrates the 20th anniversary of its handover to Chinese rule, in Hong Kong, China June 28, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

BEIJING: China said on Friday that the joint declaration with Britain over Hong Kong, which laid the blueprint over how the city would be ruled after its return to China in 1997, was a historical document that no longer had any practical significance.

The stark announcement from the Foreign Ministry, that is sure to raise questions over Beijing’s commitment to Hong Kong’s core freedoms, came the same day Chinese President Xi Jinping said in Hong Kong the “one country, two systems” formula was recognised “by the whole world”.

It also came a day after Britain reaffirmed its commitment to the document. Hong Kong celebrates the 20th anniversary of Chinese rule on Saturday.

It wasn’t immediately clear if Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang was attacking just the idea of continued British involvement in Hong Kong, or the principles in the document.

The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984 by then British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang, laid out how Britain would end its century-and-a-half long rule over Hong Kong. It also guarantees the city’s rights and freedoms under the “two systems” formula.

Under Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, Hong Kong was guaranteed its freedoms for “at least 50 years” after 1997.

Lu told reporters during a regular briefing on Friday that the document, which British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson called a “treaty” the day before, no longer binds China.

“Now Hong Kong has returned to the motherland’s embrace for 20 years, the Sino-British Joint Declaration, as a historical document, no longer has any practical significance, and it is not at all binding for the central government’s management over Hong Kong. The UK has no sovereignty, no power to rule and no power to supervise Hong Kong after the handover,” Lu said.

On Thursday, Johnson said in a statement Britain hoped that Hong Kong would make more progress towards democracy.

“Britain’s commitment to Hong Kong – enshrined in the Joint Declaration with China – is just as strong today as it was 20 years ago,” Johnson said.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard: Writing by Venus Wu; Editing by Nick Macfie)



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