BEIJING (Reuters) - The 2017 election for Hong Kong's chief executive is the "ardent expectation" of the Chinese territory's people and the only way for it to make progress on achieving democracy, a top China newspaper said on Saturday.
China has ruled the former British colony since 1997 through a "one country, two systems" formula which allows wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.
But the National People's Congress (NPC), China's largely rubber-stamp legislature, said last August it would screen candidates who want to run in the city's 2017 election for a chief executive. Democracy activists said this rendered the notion of universal suffrage meaningless.
The NPC's ruling lead to weeks of protests in Hong Kong last year, some of which turned violent. Beijing has said repeatedly that there is no room for negotiation.
In a front page commentary, the ruling Communist Party's official People's Daily said that the election was an "important mission" under Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
"Universal suffrage in accordance with the law for (choosing) the chief executive is the ardent expectation of mainstream public opinion in Hong Kong," the newspaper said.
This is also the consistent position of the central Chinese and Hong Kong governments, it added.
"Only if all Hong Kong residents strictly comply with the constitution and rules of the Basic Law, have a rational discussion on the basis of the Basic Law and the NPC's decision and agree to differ, can there certainly be historic progress on Hong Kong's democratic development," the paper said.
China's parliament chief said last month that the ruling on screening candidates who want to be chosen as Hong Kong's top official in 2017 was the correct one, in a further signal Beijing has no intention of backing down.
Frustration in Hong Kong with mainland tourists crowding into shopping centers has also sparked protests in malls across the territory.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Richard Borsuk