Britain has urged China not to use unrest in Hong Kong as a “pretext for oppression”.
The strongly worded message came after Chinese officials insisted the UK should “know its place” as protests played out in Hong Kong amid ugly scenes.
Prime Minister Theresa May’s official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: “We are very concerned about the violence we have seen on all sides during the protests.
“We want to see protests conducted in a peaceful manner in accordance with the law.
“We urge the authorities not to use last night’s events as a pretext for oppression, but to address the deep-seated concern by the people of Hong Kong that their basic freedoms are under attack.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt insisted there would be “serious consequences” if China failed to honour the terms of the 1984 joint declaration signed with the UK on Hong Kong.
Speaking at hustings for the Tory leadership race, Mr Hunt said: “We expect that legally-binding agreement to be honoured and if it isn’t there will be serious consequences.”
Asked what the consequences would be, Mr Hunt said: “You have to allow me some latitude as Foreign Secretary to make a decision on that when the appropriate time comes.”
The comments came in the wake of protesters raising the old British colonial flag in the Hong Kong legislative chamber on the 22nd anniversary of the territory’s return to Chinese rule.
Police used tear gas against activists who had occupied the legislative council building and painted pro-democracy slogans on the walls.
The territory’s leader, Carrie Lam, condemned the “extreme use of violence and vandalism” by protesters.
The scenes follow unrest in the former colony over a controversial extradition law and a feud between Mr Hunt and the Chinese foreign ministry.
Officials in Beijing urged the UK to “know its place and stop meddling in Hong Kong affairs” after Mr Hunt said Britain will remain “unwavering” in its support for the territory.
Ms Lam contrasted the protests at the assembly with a “peaceful and generally orderly” march which routinely takes place on July 1, the anniversary of the handover.
I hope the community at large will agree with us that with these violent acts that we have seen, it is right for us to condemn it and hope society will return to normal as soon as possibleCarrie Lam
She said: “The second scene that we have seen, which really saddens a lot of people and shocks a lot of people, is the extreme use of violence and vandalism by protesters who stormed into the Legislative Council building over a period of time.
“So this is something that we should seriously condemn, because nothing is more important than the rule of law in Hong Kong.
“I hope the community at large will agree with us that with these violent acts that we have seen, it is right for us to condemn it and hope society will return to normal as soon as possible.”
Demonstrations have been building for weeks in protest against moves by the Hong Kong government to change the extradition laws to allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial.
The proposal has awakened broader fears China is eroding the freedoms and rights Hong Kong is guaranteed for 50 years after the handover under the “one country, two systems” framework.
Artist and activist Ai Weiwei told BBC Newsnight the situation in Hong Kong was “not normal”.
Referring to Tiananmen Square, he told the programme: “China has a record to use force 30 years ago to crash down the most peaceful demonstration by students.
“If you see what happens in Hong Kong today, the students are very rational and peaceful.”