HONG KONG (Reuters) - China said on Monday it would not tolerate outside interference in the affairs of Hong Kong, rejecting as “thoughtless” a call from a British minister for people in the former British territory to have a genuine political choice.
Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 with the guarantee of wide-ranging autonomy and an independent judiciary and media under a “one country, two systems” formula.
It is the freest city in China, but every year on the anniversary of the handover from Britain, thousands take to the streets demanding fully democratic elections amid mounting fears of increased meddling by Beijing’s Communist Party leaders.
British Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire, called in a weekend newspaper article for full universal suffrage, saying Hong Kong people should get a genuine choice in its first full election planned for 2017.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei said China was “extremely dissatisfied at and resolutely opposed to the thoughtless remarks in the article by the British minister about Hong Kong’s political development”.
“Hong Kong’s political development is an internal matter for China. Hong Kong’s internal affairs will not brook any interference by outside forces,” Hong said.
Last Friday, Zhang Xiaoming, Beijing’s representative in the city, ruled out open nominations for candidates for 2017, saying it was against the Basic Law, a mini-constitution that enshrines the city’s freedoms and guides relations with the mainland.
Instead, Zhang said candidates could only be selected by a “broadly representative nominating committee”.
His statement is expected to fuel a pro-democracy movement that is threatening to shut-down Hong Kong’s central financial district next July unless the government introduces changes.
The election in 2017 will still be the most far-reaching version of democracy on Chinese soil. But analysts say Beijing’s hardening stance suggest a continuing conservatism towards significant political reforms under new leader Xi Jinping.
Additional reporting by Michael Martina and Ben Blanchard in Beijing; Editing by Robert Birsel