(Adds Chinese foreign ministry comment)
By Greg Torode
HONG KONG, July 10 A British government report
on Hong Kong expresses "serious concerns" about press freedom
and self-censorship in its former colony and about reports that
leading British banks had pulled advertising from a local
The six-monthly report, presented by Foreign Secretary
William Hague to parliament on Thursday, is more explicit than
London's recent summaries, reflecting rising tensions over
democratic reform in the Asian financial hub.
"We believe that freedom of expression, including of the
press, has played an important part in Hong Kong's success," the
report, made available by the British Consulate General in Hong
"As such we take seriously concerns about press freedom,
including fears about self-censorship," it adds, saying London
would monitor the situation closely and noting Hong Kong leader
Leung Chun-ying's "clear statements on press freedom".
The Hong Kong Journalists Association said in a report press
freedom in Hong Kong had entered its darkest period in decades
and has set up a group to investigate complaints of media
self-censorship amid fears that Beijing is tightening its grip.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang that the 17
years since Hong Kong returned to China had shown the success of
the "one country, two systems" autonomous system of government.
"British people should have a deep understanding and
knowledge of how Hong Kong was 17 years ago and how it is now,"
he told a daily news briefing in Beijing.
But as Hong Kong is part of China no country had the right
to interfere in its internal affairs, he added.
"China hopes the relevant country does things which benefit
Hong Kong's stability and prosperity," Qin said.
The report details a series of recent incidents, including
the stabbing in February of Kevin Lau, the former chief editor
of a leading local newspaper, Ming Pao. It also notes media
reports that London-based banks HSBC and Standard Chartered were
among institutions that had pulled adverts from the popular
Apple Daily tabloid "in response to political pressure".
Both banks, asked in London for comment, said any changes
made in their advertising would be for commercial reasons.
"The bank's selection of marketing format and channel is
commercial and linked to target market and customer segment,' an
HSBC spokeswoman said.
Earlier this week, HSBC cut its rating for Hong Kong
equities to underweight from neutral, saying a campaign for
greater democracy in the Asian financial centre could sour
relations with China and hurt the city's economy. The move was
not mentioned in Thursday's report.
Hong Kong is now locked in an intensifying political debate
over its democratic future as the government decides how to
implement Beijing's promises of a city-wide vote for its next
leader in 2017.
Beijing officials are insisting that candidates can only be
nominated by a special committee, but democracy activists are
insisting the public must be able to select politicians for the
ballot, fearing leading democrats will be otherwise screened
A campaign of civil disobedience threatens to shut down the
city's financial district later in the summer unless a
meaningful democratic plan is introduced by the government.
Hundreds of thousands marched to demand full democracy last
week while 800,000 voted in an unofficial referendum on
potential voting plans last month.
In the foreword to the report, Hague said there was "no
perfect model" but it was important for Hong Kong people to have
a "genuine choice and feel that they have a real stake in the
Chinese officials have repeatedly bristled at British
comments on Hong Kong's democratic development and a recent
White Paper issued by China's cabinet warned against 'foreign
forces' meddling in the city.
Britain made no mention of democracy for Hong Kong until the
dying days of 150 years of colonial rule.
Hague said that the "one country, two systems" concept
continued to work well generally and that rights and freedoms
enshrined in the agreement were being upheld.
(Reporting By Greg Torode, additional reporting by Steve Slater
in London, and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Nick Macfie)