HONG KONG (Reuters) – Thousands of Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters marched under a sea of umbrellas on Sunday after hundreds had sung “God Save the Queen” outside the British Consulate demanding that the former colonial power ensures China honours the city’s freedoms.
An anti-government protester holds up a Union Jack flag and a placard with a likeness of Queen Elizabeth at the British consulate General in Hong Kong, China, September 15, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha
Top-brand department stores in the Causeway Bay shopping district and the Central business area to the west closed their shutters in case of a return to the mob violence of last weekend.
The Chinese-ruled territory has been rocked by more than three months of sometimes violent protests, with demonstrators angry about what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in their city’s affairs despite a promise of autonomy.
The Sino-British Joint Declaration, signed in 1984, lays out Hong Kong’s future after its return to China in 1997, a “one country, two systems” formula that ensures freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland.
“Sino-British Joint Declaration is VOID,” one placard read in the protest outside the British Consulate.
“SOS Hong Kong,” read another.
“One country, two systems is dead,” protesters shouted in English under umbrellas shielding them from the sub-tropical sun, some carrying the colonial flag also bearing the Union Jack. “Free Hong Kong.”
Some broke into a refrain of “Rule Britannia”.
The protesters handed in a petition and drifted away as thousands were heading in their direction along the artery of Hennessy Road where the “ding ding” trams have run for more than 100 years.
Gas masks were being handed out under the cover of umbrellas in case of tear gas, but many protesters showed their faces and most only wore surgical masks.
SHUTTERS CLOSE JUST IN CASE
Major shops in Central and Causeway Bay closed their shutters in case of the violence that has broken out on previous weekends when protesters trashed metro stations and set street fires, with the police responding with tear gas, rubber bullets and water canon.
Many protesters at the British Consulate held flyers calling for “equal rights” for their British National (Overseas) passports.
With many young people looking for routes out of Hong Kong, campaigners say Britain should change the status of the British National (Overseas) passport, a category created, on certain conditions, for after Britain returned Hong Kong to China.
The passports let a holder visit Britain for six months, but do not come with an automatic right to live or work there.
“I am here to demand the UK protect our citizens’ rights in Hong Kong and speak up for Hong Kong under the Joint Declaration,” Jacky Tsang, 25, told Reuters.
The spark for the protests was planned legislation, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial, despite Hong Kong having its own much-respected independent judiciary.
The protests have since broadened into calls for universal suffrage.
China says it is committed to the “one country, two systems” arrangement, denies meddling and says the city is an internal Chinese issue. It has accused foreign powers, particularly the United States and Britain, of fomenting the unrest and told them to mind their own business.
Britain says it has a legal responsibility to ensure China abides by the 1984 declaration.
Hong Kong island was granted to Britain “in perpetuity” in 1842 at the end of the First Opium War. Kowloon, a peninsula on the mainland opposite Hong Kong island, joined later, after the Second Opium War.
The colony was expanded to include the New Territories, to the north of Kowloon, on a 99-year lease, in 1898.
Britain returned all of the territory to China, which never recognised the “unequal treaties”, in 1997.
“The Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty between the UK and China that remains as valid today as it was when it was signed and ratified over 30 years ago,” a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said in June.
“As a co-signatory, the UK government will continue to defend our position.”
But it was not immediately clear what Britain could or would want to do to defend that position. It is pinning its hopes on closer trade and investment cooperation with China, which since 1997 has risen to become the world’s second-largest economy, after it leaves the European Union at the end of next month.
Additional reporting by Twinnie Siu, Alun John, Jessie Pang and Farah Master; Writing by Nick Macfie; Editing by Robert Birsel and Himani Sarkar
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