BEIJING (Reuters) - The planned 2017 election for Hong Kong’s top official is what most people in the Chinese territory want, Chinese Vice President Li Yuanchao said on Monday, despite demonstrations by thousands last year against the way it will be conducted.
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.
“Having an election in 2017 for the chief executive using universal suffrage is the genuine hope of the central government, and also the common wish of the majority of Hong Kong’s people,” Li told a Hong Kong delegation according to Xinhua, China’s state news agency.
The NPC’s ruling led to weeks of sometimes violent protests in Hong Kong last year. Beijing has said repeatedly that there is no room for negotiation.
Wang Guangya, the head of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office — one of the highest level Chinese bodies overseeing Hong Kong affairs — reiterated to a Hong Kong delegation on Monday that Beijing wouldn’t compromise on political reform.
“(Beijing) will strongly uphold its bottom line,” Chan Yung, chairman of the New Territories Association of Societies and a senior pro-Beijing politician in Hong Kong, said, quoting remarks made by Wang during the meeting.
The Hong Kong government is expected to publish this week a long-awaited electoral blueprint for selecting the city’s next leader to lawmakers.
Opposition democrats have vowed to veto the proposed electoral package that will be voted upon in the legislature this summer. But Li, the vice president, urged Hong Kong to grasp this “historic opportunity” and take a positive, rational and pragmatic attitude to promote the city’s democratic path.
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, a further signal Beijing had no intention of backing down.
However, last week China said it would limit the number of visits that residents of the southern city of Shenzhen can make to neighboring Hong Kong to ease the flow of mainland visitors that has stirred up tensions.
Reporting by Ben Blanchard and James Pomfret; Editing by Nick Macfie and Ralph Boulton