INTERVIEW-UK PM candidate Johnson says he backs Hong Kong people "every inch of the way"
By Kylie MacLellan
READING, England, July 3 (Reuters) - Boris Johnson, who could be Britain's prime minister by the end of the month, said he backed the people of Hong Kong every inch of the way and cautioned China that "one country, two systems" should not be cast aside.
Britain has repeatedly pressed China to honour its commitment to protect freedoms in Hong Kong after police fired tear gas to disperse protesters rallying in the former British colony against a now-suspended extradition bill.
Hong Kong has been rocked by the largest protests in China since crowds demonstrated against the bloody suppression of pro-democracy activists in and around Beijing's Tiananmen Square in June 1989.
"The people of Hong Kong are perfectly within their rights to be very sceptical, very anxious about proposals for extradition to the mainland that could be politically motivated, that could be arbitrary and could infringe their human rights," Johnson told Reuters in an interview during a visit to a police training centre in southern England.
"So yes I do support them and I will happily speak up for them and back them every inch of the way," the former foreign secretary said. "And I would stress to our friends in Beijing that the 'one country, two systems' approach has worked, is working and should not be cast aside."
Late on Monday, hundreds of protesters in Hong Kong besieged, and broke into, the legislature after a demonstration marking the anniversary of its 1997 return to Chinese rule.
The turbulence in Hong Kong was triggered by an extradition bill critics say will undermine Hong Kong's independent judiciary and give Beijing powers to prosecute activists in mainland courts, which are controlled by the Communist Party.
On Brexit, Johnson, who has pledged to leave the European Union on Oct. 31 with or without a deal, said he did not think the British parliament would stop Britain from leaving even if there was no divorce agreement.
"What I want is a sensible Brexit that is supported by both sides of the channel but we have got to come out by October 31 and get it done, get it done by then at the latest," Johnson, 55, said.
"Don’t forget we are staring down the barrel now of political extinction, the Conservative Party, it is very difficult situation unless we get this thing over the line."
He is vying with Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt for the top job. The results of a vote by around 160,000 members of the Conservative Party on who should be their leader and next prime minister will be announced on July 23.
Britain's relations with China under outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May have been complicated by a disagreement with Washington over whether to ban China's Huawei HWT.UL from 5G telecommunications networks as a security risk.
Britain's National Security Council discussed Huawei in April and a preliminary decision was made to block it from all core parts of the 5G network but to give it restricted access to non-core parts.
That angered some in the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump and raised concerns among some allies in the Five-Eyes security alliance which comprises the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
Johnson said Chinese companies were welcome in Britain "but you would not expect the UK to do anything to compromise its vital national security infrastructure.
"You would not expect me as prime minister to do anything to compromise the ability of our fantastic intelligence services to share information as they do, particularly with our Five-Eyes partners, so that is the principle that will guide us."
On Iran, Johnson urged Tehran to think carefully before scrapping the 2015 nuclear deal.
"I would urge again the Iranian government to think very, very hard about scrapping the JCPOA and breaching their commitments on the Iran nuclear deal," Johnson said.
"I think they should stick with it and I think it would be a great mistake now for Iran to abandon that approach of restraint and go for enrichment of nuclear materials. I think that would be a serious error."
When asked if he would move closer to the United States on Iran if he became prime minister, Johnson said: "I think what is certainly the case is that the JCPOA is looking increasingly frail and we do have to think of ways of constraining Iran’s disruptive behaviour in the region."
"But I continue to believe that engaging with Iran and persuading Iran not to go forward with a nuclear weapons programme is the right way forward for our country and for the region," he said.
HIGHLIGHTS-UK's Boris Johnson on Hong Kong, Huawei, Iran and Brexit
(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Stephen Addison and Janet Lawrence)