BEIJING - China on Monday defended its refusal to allow a group of British MPs into Hong Kong, describing their planned trip to the former colony as "overtly confrontational" in words echoing those of the legislators' leader.
The move comes amid continuing protests by pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong who have been demanding the right to choose their own leaders without interference from Beijing.
The Foreign Affairs Committee, a panel of lawmakers who scrutinise the Foreign Office's work, is looking into Britain's relations with the Chinese special administrative region 30 years after the 1984 Joint Declaration, which set out the terms of the 1997 handover of Hong Kong.
A group of MPs had planned to visit the Asian financial hub but were informed by the Chinese embassy in London they would be refused entry, said committee chairman Richard Ottaway.
Under the Joint Declaration Hong Kong is governed according to a "one country, two systems" principle, enjoying freedoms not known on the mainland.
But when asked about the refusal Beijing's foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said the situation in the city falls within China's domestic affairs and insisted foreign countries had no right to "interfere".
The delegation's attempt to travel was "overtly confrontational and it is not conducive to the development of China-UK relations", Hua told a regular press briefing.
Ottaway had used the same phrase at the weekend when he said: "The Chinese government are acting in an overtly confrontational manner in refusing us access to do our job." British citizens do not require visas to visit Hong Kong, but Hua said: "It is the sovereign right of every country to decide whether or not to issue a visa or what kind of visa to issue.
"China has repeatedly expressed to Britain that we are opposed to the so-called investigation by the group sent by the British lower house of parliament." Another group of British lawmakers last week cancelled a visit to mainland China after an MP who spoke up for Hong Kong's autonomy was not granted a visa.
Richard Graham, head of the All-Party Parliamentary China Group and a former diplomat in Beijing and Macau in the 1980s, was refused a visa at the last minute ahead of a three-day trip.
It also comes after an announcement Thursday that Prince William will visit China in March on behalf of the British government.
The tour by the 32-year-old prince, second in line to the throne, is being seen in British newspapers as an attempt to improve top-level diplomatic relations with Beijing.