One of Hong Kong's most influential political figures has called for the UK to "act honourably" and do more to help the struggle for democracy in the former colony. Former Hong Kong chief secretary Anson Chan said that Britain has a "legal and moral responsibility" to stand by Hong Kong as tensions continue to rise there.
The 74-year-old, who served under Hong Kong's last British governor, Chris Patten, said that people in Hong Kong have been "disappointed" by Britain's silence on the matter. And she called for the Government not to walk away from commitments to uphold its autonomy made to Hong Kong before Britain handed sovereignty back to China in 1997.
Attending Headington independent school for girls, in Oxford, to give a lecture on women and leadership, Mrs Chan said: "Not only myself, all people in Hong Kong are disappointed that Britain has been so silent. Quite frankly, Hong Kong people despair that Britain will ever stand by Hong Kong and that's a real pity.
"Britain has a legal and moral responsibility towards Hong Kong and we have a perfect right to expect Britain to act in an honourable way. China may continue to say 'keep out of our domestic affairs' but I'm sure they will have regard to international opinion.
"The pity is that today money seems to talk and in the interest of investment and trade Britain seems to be prepared to walk away from its commitments, but this is not the way to go. Surely you can have trade with China and at the same time act honourably and tell China in no uncertain terms: 'We take our treaty obligations very, very seriously.'
"We want, after all, for China to one of these days to become a fully fledged member of the international community. To do that, the rest of the world would be better off if China also embraces universal values - that is, democratic values."
Mrs Chan, who also served as chief secretary after Hong Kong was handed back to the Chinese, said the UK should express its views on the matter to Beijing "both publicly and behind the scene". Her call for the UK to back the protests came as pro-democracy activists shelved plans for talks with the government on electoral reform after mobs tried to drive them from the streets they have occupied for a week.
Chief executive Leung Chun-ying proposed the talks last night in a bid to defuse the biggest challenge to Beijing's authority since the handover in 1997. But today scuffles broke out throughout the city, which already saw police use tear gas and pepper spray to disperse the protesters last weekend.
Beijing has warned other countries from intervening in the crisis, but Mrs Chan said it was "nonsense" to talk of foreign interference. "This latest show of discontent has been entirely generated within Hong Kong and it is the government's doing," she said. "Nobody from outside could possibly stir up this sort of depth of anger and frustration."