China backs Financial Times Hong Kong editor’s visa denial

China has defended its decision to refuse to renew the work visa of a Financial Times editor in Hong Kong, in a case has drawn concern over the shrinking space for free speech in the Chinese territory.

The central government “firmly supports” the local government’s rejection of Asia editor Victor Mallet’s visa renewal application, according to a statement from the foreign ministry’s office in Hong Kong issued late Saturday.

“No foreign country has any right to interfere,” the office said, in a response to expressions of concern from the British foreign ministry and the U.S. Consulate in the territory.

Mallet is vice president of Hong Kong’s Foreign Correspondents’ Club, which drew criticism from the authorities for hosting a talk by the leader of a now-banned pro-Hong Kong independence party.

Hong Kong was promised semi-autonomy for 50 years as part of its 1997 handover from British rule, allowing it to retain its limited democracy and rights to assembly and free speech that are denied on the Chinese mainland.

Rights groups have called the visa rejection the latest sign of Beijing’s expanding restrictions on the territory, including legal cases brought against pro-democracy legislators and organizers of large-scale anti-government protests in 2014.

In a statement dated Friday, Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office asked for “an urgent explanation” as to why Mallet’s visa renewal application was rejected.

“Hong Kong’s high degree of autonomy and its press freedoms are central to its way of life, and must be fully respected,” the statement said.

The U.S. Consulate said the rejection was “deeply troubling,” especially since it reflected problems faced by international journalists in mainland China whose visas can be held up or refused because of political considerations.

The London-based Financial Times said in a statement that it was given no reason why Mallet’s application was rejected.

“This is the first time we have encountered this situation in Hong Kong,” it said.