1 December 2014
Last updated at 12:30
Downing Street has said China was “mistaken” to bar a committee of MPs from visiting Hong Kong, describing the rebuff as “counter-productive”.
The Foreign Affairs Committee has been told it cannot make a planned trip to the ex-UK colony, which has seen months of pro-democracy protests.
No 10 said the move “amplified” concerns about the situation there.
Committee chairman, Conservative MP Sir Richard Ottaway, is seeking a Commons debate on the issue on Tuesday.
Beijing has accused the committee of “interfering” in China’s internal affairs.
Hong Kong police clashed with demonstrators on Monday, briefly shutting down government offices – the latest showdown between the authorities and protesters seeking political reforms, including elections free from interference by Beijing.
Since July, the Westminster committee has been examining relations between the UK and its former colony, 30 years on from the signing of the Joint Declaration between the UK and China in 1984.
This landmark agreement approved the transfer of sovereignty to China and set out a “one country, two systems” principle of governance for Hong Kong under Chinese rule.
Sir Richard said he was told on Friday by the Chinese embassy in London that he and his colleagues could not visit Hong Kong as part of the inquiry, describing the refusal as “an affront to free men and women” around the world.
He said he had sought Commons Speaker John Bercow’s approval for an urgent debate on the matter and, if granted, it would take place on Tuesday.
China was wrong to think the committee was “meddling” in its internal affairs, the MP said.
“Frankly it is a very regrettable state of affairs,” he told the BBC News Channel. “I don’t think there is any connection between our visit and the protests. Our inquiry started long before the current wave of protests started.”
Sir Richard said he and his colleagues would have refrained from making any public comment while there and the visit, far from doing damage, would help in raising understanding of the issues involved and the UK’s legitimate interest in Hong Kong’s future.
“Indeed, it is quite conceivable that our visit would have been helpful,” he added.
“I think it is a huge mistake by China. It also suggests that they do not accept we have any rights under the Joint Declaration. That is profoundly wrong and it is very important we make that point.”
During his five years at the head of the committee, Sir Richard said it had never been refused entry anywhere because most countries, even those that were not democracies, knew that transparency was vital in the 21st Century.
Sir Richard said the issue represented a “real hiccup” in Sino-British relations, which he said had improved since a row in 2012 over a meeting between David Cameron and the Tibetan opposition leader, the Dalai Lama.
“China is a member of the G20. We work and do a lot together. This is wholly unnecessary and I would like to think they will think again over it.”
Downing Street said the committee had visited Hong Kong in the past and “their desire to travel is not new”.
“It amplifies concerns rather than diminishes them,” a spokesman said of the refusal to allow the MPs into Hong Kong.
Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond had raised concerns about the situation in Hong Kong with his Chinese opposite number last week, he added.
The Chinese authorities condemned the committee’s inquiry when it was announced, saying it was a “highly inappropriate act which constitutes interference in China’s internal affairs”.