WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The last British governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten, is to address a U.S. government commission on Thursday on prospects for democracy in the territory, something likely to irritate Beijing which sees protests there as an internal matter.
Patten will address the Congressional-Executive Commission on China, a panel of nine senators, nine house members and five senior U.S. administration officials set up in 2000 to monitor human rights in China. He will speak in a satellite link from Britain.
Members of the bipartisan commission put forward a bill last week calling for renewed U.S. commitment to democracy and autonomy in Hong Kong.
The bill would update a 1992 act that treats Hong Kong differently to China on trade and economic matters, and require President Barack Obama to certify that Hong Kong is sufficiently autonomous before enacting new laws or agreements.
Patten has accused Britain of not putting enough pressure on China to stick to a pact on the transfer of Hong Kong’s sovereignty because it was worried about damaging trade links.
China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said foreign countries shouldn’t “interfere” with Hong Kong politics.
“Constitutional development and democracy in Hong Kong are internal affairs of Hong Kong and China,” ministry spokesman Hong Lei told a daily briefing. “No foreign government has the right to interfere.”
China resumed control of the British colony in 1997 through a “one country, two systems” formula that allows wide-ranging autonomy and specifies universal suffrage as an eventual goal.
But Beijing said in August it would effectively screen candidates for city leader, prompting weeks of street protests by pro-democracy activists.
China’s Foreign Ministry had already dismissed comments by Patten on developments in Hong Kong, accusing him of trying to incite “illegal” protests.
In a speech in Brisbane last weekend, Obama pledged to stand up for human rights in the region and said Hong Kong protesters were “speaking out for their universal rights”.
Additional reporting by Megha Rajagopalan in BEIJING; Editing by David Storey and Andrew Hay