China said its relations with the UK have been damaged after the foreign office threatened “serious consequences” over the reaction to protests in Hong Kong.

Foreign Secretary and candidate for the Conservative party leadership, Jeremy Hunt appeared to back down on his comments when he said on Thursday that he had not backed violent protests in Hong Kong: “Let me be clear what I said. I said that I condemned, and we as the United Kingdom, condemn all violence and that people who supported the pro-democracy demonstrators would have been very dismayed by the scenes they saw,” Hunt said during a radio interview.

Hunt said there was no reason why good relations between Britain and China could not continue, and that options should be kept open. He said he expected the letter and spirit of the 1997 UK-China declaration to be honored.

The UK minister’s comments came after an unusually blunt rebuff from China, and its ambassador in London. Referring to Hunt’s intervention earlier in the week, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Hunt: “seems to be fantasising in the faded glory of British colonialism and in the bad habit of gesticulating while looking down on other countries’ affairs,” before adding: “I need to re-emphasize that Hong Kong has now returned to its motherland.”

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