Hong Kong democracy activists have accused Chinese president Xi Jinping of "humiliating” the British government by appearing to rubbish the deal that secured the former colony’s return to China by guaranteeing its way of life for 50 years.
On Friday, the eve of the 20th anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover, on 1 July 1997, Beijing controversially announced that the Sino-British joint declaration was "now history” and no longer had "any practical significance nor any binding force”.
"The British side has no sovereignty, no power to rule and supervise Hong Kong after the handover. It is hoped that relevant people will come around to this,” foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told reporters.
Lu also attacked the foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, for what he called his "incorrect” and "sour” stance on Hong Kong.
On Saturday, as Hong Kong prepared for major protests and celebrations marking the anniversary, members of its pro-democracy camp slammed China’s rejection of the treaty.
Avery Ng, the chairman of the League of Social Democrats, told the Guardian: "It is ridiculous for the Chinese government to claim that the joint declaration is a historical document. You don’t sign a contract and claim that it is historical the second day after the contract was signed.”
"I believe the UK government has legal, moral and political responsibility to come out and say the right thing. It is not just the Chinese government humiliating the people of Hong Kong but it is that Xi Jinping is humiliating the UK government.”
Joshua Wong, the umbrella movement protest leader, insisted the joint declaration "absolutely is a legally binding document” and that its implementation needed to be monitored closely by the international community.
The Foreign Office also rejected China’s statement about the joint declaration, a deal which guaranteed Hong Kong’s way of life and high degree of autonomy until 2047. "The [declaration] remains as valid today as it did when it was signed over 30 years ago,” a spokesperson said on Friday.
However, Wong, who is one of the leaders of the Demosisto party, accused the British government of not doing enough to challenge China’s attempt to undermine the historic pre-handover agreement.
"The fact is that now when China’s government claims that the joint declaration has expired already the British government still reacts passively,” he said. "They did not show a strong stance to monitor the current implementation [of the joint declaration] and the erosion of autonomy in Hong Kong.”
The declaration was unveiled in December 1984 by British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and China’s then leader, Deng Xiaoping, at a ceremony in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People.
Thatcher said she was proud to have signed a declaration she said would preserve Hong Kong’s legal system as well as the "the rights and freedoms enjoyed there”.
However, in an interview on the eve of today’s anniversary, Hong Kong’s last governor, Lord Patten, claimed China was guilty of several "outrageous” breaches of the joint declaration – including the abduction of a group of political booksellers – but that despite this Britain had done little more than some "tut-tutting”.
Speaking on Saturday, a third Hong Kong activist said he believed neither China nor Britain had the right to weigh in on what should be matters for the people of Hong Kong. "Thatcher? I don’t want to talk about her. Come on. Give me a break,” said Leung Kwok-hung, a veteran campaigner who is best known by the nickname Long Hair. "I think they should keep their mouths shut – both sides.”