By William James
LONDON (Reuters) - The United Kingdom said China's imposition of a security law on Hong Kong was a "clear and serious" violation of the 1984 Joint Declaration and that London would offer around 3 million residents of the former colony a path to British citizenship.
Hong Kong police fired water cannon and tear gas and arrested nearly 200 people as protesters took to the streets in defiance of sweeping security legislation introduced by China that they say is aimed at snuffing out dissent.
"The enactment and imposition of this national security law constitute a clear and serious breach of the Sino-British Joint Declaration," Prime Minister Boris Johnson told parliament on Wednesday.
Johnson said Britain would stand by its pledge to give British National Overseas (BNO) passport-holders in Hong Kong a path to British citizenship, allowing them to settle in the United Kingdom.
Almost 3 million Hong Kong residents are eligible for the passport. There were 349,881 holders of the passports as of February.
Hong Kong's autonomy was guaranteed under the "one country, two systems" agreement enshrined in the Sino-British Joint Declaration signed by then Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
Hong Kong was handed back to China on July 1, 1997, after more than 150 years of British rule - imposed after Britain defeated China in the First Opium War. China had never recognised the "unequal treaties" allowing Britain's rule of Hong Kong island, the Kowloon peninsula and later its lease of the rural New Territories.
HONG KONG ROW
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain had carefully assessed China's national security legislation since it was published late on Tuesday.
"It constitutes a clear violation of the autonomy of Hong Kong, and a direct threat to the freedoms of its people, and therefore I'm afraid to say it is a clear and serious violation of the Joint Declaration treaty between the United Kingdom and China," Raab told Reuters and the BBC.
Authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have repeatedly said the legislation is aimed at a few "troublemakers" and will not affect rights and freedoms, nor investor interests.
Raab said he would set out shortly the action Britain would take with its international partners.
"China, through this national security legislation, is not living up to its promises to the people of Hong Kong," Raab said. "We will live up to our promises."
Asked about how the West should deal with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Raab said:
"Obviously, China is a leading member of the international community. And it is precisely because of that, that we expect it to live up to its international obligations and its international responsibilities. For trust in China's ability to do that, today has been a big step backwards."
(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Stephen Addison and Nick Macfie)