China has issued a warning to France after Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said he was "considering measures" in response to China’s Hong Kong policy. Last week, Beijing's national security law came into force, effectively curbing Hong Kong's relative independence.
"The affairs of Hong Kong are part of China's internal affairs and no country has the right to interfere," according to Zhao Lijian, the spokesperson of China’s Foreign Affairs Ministry.
Beijing imposed its national security law in Hong Kong last week. It is aimed at “quelling subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces”. The regulations are a direct answer to last year's violent protests where some demonstrators went as far as demanding independence for the former British crown colony.
The law constitutes the most radical change for Hong Kong since London handed the city back to China in 1997. Pro-democracy activists now fear an unprecedented erosion of freedoms and autonomy in the territory.
Le Drian, addressing the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee, said that France would not remain inactive on the Hong Kong question.
"We are considering measures that I will announce when the time comes," he added, stressing they would be taken in "coordination" with other European countries.
"This is a break with the 1997 Basic Law on the “one country, two systems” principle, so we won’t stand by idly,” he says.
The “one country, two systems” scheme, which is embedded in Hong Kong’s constitution, guarantees the territory’s semi-autonomy, the rule of law, capitalist system and budding democracy. Beijing and London signed a joint declaration, guaranteeing that Hong Kong’s status quo would be maintained for at least 50 years.
But critics say that over the years since 1997, Beijing has gradually reduced commitment to its promises, leading to increasingly violent protests in the city.
'Prudence in words'
In response to the French comments, China’s spokesman said he hoped that some countries would exercise "prudence in words and in actions" and behave "in a more positive way for the stability of Hong Kong".
But Jean-Yves Le Drian repeated his remarks during a joint press briefing on Thursday with his Spanish counterpart Arancha Gonzalez: "This security law is a very serious act which in our view questions the 1997 Basic Law which validated Hong Kong's form of autonomy under 'one country, two systems'.
"When the fundamentals of justice are being questioned, we think those principles are undermined."
He also expressed concern about the fate of French nationals currently living in Hong Kong, as the controversial Article 38 of the Hong Kong National Security Law points out that “non-residents” both “inside and outside” Hong Kong are now to be subjected to its regulations.
On 20 July, the issue will be discussed at EU level in Brussels.
Meanwhile, London has said it would facilitate Hong Kong citizens' access to British citizenship. Beijing rejected the announcement as "gross interference" as well.
Australia for its part announced Thursday the suspension of its extradition agreement with Hong Kong and the extension of visas for the benefit of Hong Kongers.