HONG KONG (Reuters) - Talks between Chinese officials and Hong Kong democrats ended in stalemate on Sunday, with democrats sticking by plans to veto a Beijing-proposed election blueprint in a mid-June vote that could become a flashpoint for pro-democracy protests.
Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, was roiled by 79 days of mass demonstrations and street occupations late last year over how its next leader will be chosen in 2017.
Democrats want a leader chosen by universal suffrage, rather than from a list of pro-Beijing candidates as China is insisting.
The talks held in luxury hotel in Shenzhen represented a rare face-to-face meeting between the two sides before Hong Kong’s legislature votes on Beijing’s proposal in mid-June.
But as on previous occasions, China refused to shift from its blueprint for Hong Kong’s next leadership election, under which a 1200-person committee full of Beijing loyalists would vet two to three candidates before a citywide vote.
Speaking after the nearly four hour meeting with democrats on Sunday, one of China’s top officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs said Beijing could not allow a “die-hard” democrat to be elected a Hong Kong’s chief executive.
“We cannot let these people be elected,” Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters, without mentioning specific names.
“Because if they are elected as chief executive, it will be a disaster for the country (China), it will be a disaster for Hong Kong.”
On Sunday 3,000 people marched to the Liason Office, according to organizers. They carried yellow umbrellas and ribbons to symbolize democracy and planted a white statue meant to represent the “goddess of democracy” in front of the building.
The electoral blueprint requires a two-thirds majority in the 70-seat legislature to pass, but Beijing failed again on Sunday to persuade enough of the city’s 27 pro-democracy lawmakers to back the package.
“We are left with no choice but to veto it, definitely. It has made us even more determined to veto it,” said Alan Leong, one of 14 pro-democracy lawmakers who attended the talks before taking part in an annual pro-democracy march to commemorate the June 4 massacre in Tiananmen Square.
The mid-June vote could trigger mass demonstrations, and police have been carrying out drills to prepare for possible protests on the day.
The demonstrations in Hong Kong last year marked one of the boldest populist challenges to Beijing’s Communist Party rule since the former British colony returned to Chinese control.
Hong Kong returned to China’s rule under a principle of “one country, two systems” allowing it broad autonomy and far more freedom of speech, assembly and religion than exists on the mainland. But China has made it plain that Beijing’s sovereignty cannot be questioned.
Additional reporting by Viola Zhou, Shan Kao, Nicole Lai; Writing by James Pomfret and Farah Master; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Raissa Kasolowsky