Hong Kong protesters call on UK to protect city from China

Many called for residents of the city who want to leave to be granted citizenship in Britain or other Commonwealth countries

Demonstrators march along Queensway during a protest in the Central district of Hong Kong, China, on Sunday, Sept. 15, 2019. Tens of thousands of protesters marched through central Hong Kong, defying a police ban on a mass rally that had been planned for Sunday afternoon. Photographer: Justin Chin/Bloomberg

Pro-democracy protesters rallied outside Britain's consulate in Hong Kong on Sunday, demanding London do more to protect its former colonial subjects.

Hundreds of demonstrators called on Britain to increase pressure on Beijing over a perceived erosion of  freedoms as they sang "God Save the Queen" and "Rule Britannia" outside the consulate, waving the Union Jack and Hong Kong's colonial-era flags.

The protest came as another large rally made its way through the city streets on Sunday afternoon in defiance of a ban by police, who warned the gathering was illegal.

The once-stable international finance hub has been convulsed by weeks of huge and sometimes violent rallies calling for greater democratic freedoms and police accountability.

The protests were sparked by a now-abandoned plan to allow extraditions to the mainland.

The movement is the biggest challenge to China's rule since the city was handed back by Britain in 1997 and shows no sign of ending, with local leaders and Beijing taking a hard line.

Under a deal signed with Britain before the city's 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong is allowed to keep its unique freedoms for 50 years.

Democracy activists accuse Beijing of reneging on those promises by tightening political control over the semi-autonomous territory and rejecting calls for universal suffrage.

Many of the protest signs accused Britain of not doing enough to confront Beijing over its tightening grip on the semi-autonomous Chinese city.

There were calls for Hong Kongers who want to leave the city to be granted citizenship in Britain or other Commonwealth nations.

Some Hong Kongers were given British National Overseas (BNO) passports before the handover, a document that allows holders easy travel to the UK but grants no working or residency rights.

Earlier this week some 130 UK lawmakers signed a joint letter calling for Britain and Commonwealth countries to come up with an "insurance policy" for Hong Kongers to resettle overseas should they wish to.

China has portrayed the protests as foreign-funded, singling out Britain and the United States for criticism, although it has presented little evidence beyond supportive statements from some foreign politicians.

It has insisted that Hong Kong is an entirely internal matter.

Britain has walked a careful path on the protests, keen to keep Beijing onside as a valuable trade partner, especially given the uncertainty thrown up by its imminent departure from the European Union.

But it has also expressed concerns about the direction Hong Kong has headed and says it has a duty to ensure Beijing upholds the deal it struck before the handover.

"The Joint Declaration is a legally binding treaty between the UK and China that remains as valid today as it was when it was signed and ratified over 30 years ago," a British Foreign Office spokeswoman said in June.

Democracy advocates have ramped up appeals to the international community in recent weeks, with prominent activists travelling overseas and crowdfunding used to print adverts in global newspapers.

Joshua Wong, a well-known activist, is currently in the United States and met Germany's foreign minister earlier this week in Berlin - a trip that infuriated Beijing.

Sunday's protest outside the UK mission was significantly smaller than a huge march the week before to the US consulate which saw tens of thousands turn out.

The pro-democracy movement has vowed to continue until key demands are met, including an inquiry into police brutality, an amnesty for those arrested and universal suffrage.

There are plans for further protests in the coming weeks, culminating on October 1 when leaders in Beijing are planning huge celebrations to mark the 70th anniversary of the People's Republic of China.