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Britain Accuses China of Violating Treaty in Hong Kong Bookseller's Case
Britain has issued its strongest public criticism of China to date over the apparent secretive abduction of a British citizen, Lee Bo, from its former colony, Hong Kong, to the Chinese mainland.
The British foreign secretary, Philip Hammond, said in a report released on Thursday that the case of Mr. Lee, a bookseller, was a "serious breach" of treaty commitments between Beijing and London that were meant to preserve Hong Kong's legal autonomy.
"I am particularly concerned by the situation of Mr. Lee Po, a British citizen," Mr. Hammond said in the report, using an alternate spelling of Mr. Lee's name. The report is the latest of the British government's assessments, issued to Parliament every six months, about the state of Hong Kong and of Britain's ties to the special administrative region that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
"We urge the authorities in Hong Kong and Beijing to take the necessary steps to maintain confidence in the system and the sanctity of the rights, freedoms and values it upholds," the report concluded, referring to Mr. Lee's case and what it suggested were other worrisome signs of erosion of Hong Kong's special status.
Mr. Lee is one of five men connected to Mighty Current Media, a Hong Kong publisher of gossipy books about Communist Party leaders, who have disappeared since October. Their cases have ignited protests from Hong Kong residents who say they believe that they were the victims of secretive abductions orchestrated by the mainland authorities.
The Chinese police confirmed in January that Mr. Lee was in China, and they released letters, purportedly from Mr. Lee, saying that he had gone there voluntarily and did not want to meet with Hong Kong officials who have asked to see him.
Those claims have prompted disbelief in Hong Kong, especially among those who say that Beijing is intent on curtailing the freedoms enjoyed under the city's limited autonomy, which they say are anathema to the Chinese president, Xi Jinping.
In his report, Mr. Hammond indicated that he did not believe the Chinese authorities' explanation, either.
"The full facts of the case remain unclear, but our current information indicates that Mr. Lee was involuntarily removed to the mainland without any due process under Hong Kong S.A.R. law," Mr. Hammond said, using an abbreviation for special administrative region.
"This constitutes a serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration on Hong Kong and undermines the principle of 'one country, two systems,' which assures Hong Kong residents of the protection of the Hong Kong legal system."
The joint declaration, signed by Britain and China in 1984, was one of the foundational documents intended to ensure that Hong Kong retained its own robust legal system and economic and political freedoms for decades after its return to China.
Mr. Hammond's words were tougher than earlier comments he had made about Mr. Lee's case. During a visit to Beijing in early January, Mr. Hammond said suggestions that Chinese agents were behind the bookseller's disappearance amounted to speculation, The Guardian reported.
In the report issued on Thursday, Mr. Hammond said that Britain had "called, in our contacts with the Chinese government at the highest level, for Mr. Lee's immediate return to Hong Kong."
Mr. Lee, who also goes by the name Paul Lee, disappeared on Dec. 30, after four other men tied to Mighty Current had also disappeared. A co-owner of the publishing company, Gui Minhai, is a Swedish citizen who disappeared from his vacation home in Thailand in October. In January, Mr. Gui was shown on Chinese television news saying that he had returned to China willingly, out of contrition over violating a probationary sentence for a deadly drunken-driving accident there in 2003.
Mr. Lee's case was particularly alarming to Hong Kong residents, however, because unlike the four others, he was last seen in Hong Kong, suggesting he was abducted there.
On Friday, a spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the British report as "irresponsible carping and finger wagging."
"We state our strong dissatisfaction and adamant disapproval of this," the spokesman, Hong Lei, said in comments issued on the ministry's website. He said Britain had no grounds to comment on Hong Kong.
"Hong Kong affairs are a domestic issue for China," Mr. Hong said, "and no other country has the power to meddle."
[Source: By Chris Buckley, The New York Times, Beijing, 12Feb16]
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