Sep 14, 2013
The Japan Times
In the strongest sign yet from China that it will not allow the former British colony to freely choose its next leader, Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong, has rejected letting the public nominate candidates.
Zhang said in an open letter that a provision in the city’s miniconstitution requires candidates to be chosen by a “broadly representative nominating committee.” “There is no other option,” Zhang said in the letter, written in response to a lawmaker’s proposal.
Since China regained control of Hong Kong in 1997, the city’s leader — known as the chief executive — has been chosen by an elite panel of mainly pro-Beijing tycoons and business group representatives.
Beijing promised in 2007 to allow Hong Kongers to elect their leader in 2017 and all lawmakers by 2020, but no outline has been given, adding to growing anxiety among residents that they’ll be denied full democracy.
Even if the elections are held as promised, the pro-reform lobby fears Beijing will try to weaken the influence of the feisty pro-democracy camp, which has dominated previous legislative elections.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is facing growing public pressure to hold consultations on electoral reform.
However, in remarks likely to anger Beijing, British Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire said Hong Kong’s progress toward universal suffrage is “vital to its future stability” and that electoral reforms must offer voters a “genuine choice.”
In an opinion piece published in the South China Morning Post on Saturday, Swire said it is up to the governments of Hong Kong and China, and the people of Hong Kong, to decide what their model of democracy with universal suffrage will look like. “There is no perfect model anywhere in the world, but the important thing is that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice to enable them to feel they have a real stake in the outcome,” Swire wrote.
Hong Kong pro-democracy groups have proposed several ways to make the nomination process more democratic, including allowing candidates to run if at least 2 percent the city’s 3.4 million registered voters nominate them.
In July, Zhang told Hong Kong lawmakers the central government is serious about eventually allowing all Hong Kongers to vote for the chief executive. But he reiterated Beijing’s insistence it will never let residents nominate their own candidates without central government approval.
Zhang said in his letter that the “correct path forward” for election methods is to follow the provisions of the Basic Law — Hong Kong’s miniconstitution — and the National People’s Congress Standing Committee — the Chinese legislature’s governing body — “rather than detouring from the law.”
Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, gets to keep its own political system and Western-style civil liberties such as freedom of speech until 2047.
Zhang’s letter was dated Aug. 30 and posted Thursday on the website of the Chinese central government’s liaison office.