Britain backs universal suffrage for Hong Kong

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HONG KONG -- Universal suffrage in Hong Kong should give the city's people a "genuine choice" and a "real stake" in the outcome, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a report to Parliament about the former British colony.

Transition to full democracy is in the best interest of Hong Kong, Mr. Hague said in the half-yearly report issued last week, which covers a broad range of political, economic and constitutional developments in the Chinese city.

The best way of guaranteeing the city's stability and prosperity is "by Hong Kong moving to a democratic system of universal suffrage in line with public consultations, the promised timetable and international standards," Mr. Hague said.

Hong Kong's government hasn't published a timetable for promised public consultation or brought forward specific proposals for electoral reform during the first-half of this year, according to Monday's report.

Public distrust of the Chinese government has risen to its highest level in more than 15 years amid Hong Kong's rising demand for universal suffrage. Leung Chun-ying, the city's leader, is required to prepare for full universal and equal suffrage for the election of the chief executive in 2017, as China has promised Hong Kong.

The British government signed a joint declaration with China in 1984 that guarantees autonomy, civil rights and an independent legal system for the city after the handover to the mainland in 1997.

Electoral reforms in Hong Kong require the approval of the city's legislature and China's endorsement. Increased democracy may lead to China's refusal to appoint a leader elected by the city's people, Mr. Leung said in an interview last month.

Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the law committee of the National People's Congress, said on March 24 that consultations about political reform in Hong Kong shouldn't start until everybody agrees that the leader of the city "can't plot to overthrow the rule of the Chinese Communist Party."

Hong Kong public's distrust of the Chinese government rose to 45.4 percent, the highest level since February 1997, according to a survey of 1,055 people conducted from June 10-13 by the University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Program.

Under the "One Country, Two Systems" arrangement former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping set in place for after the handover, Hong Kong retains its own laws and local administration for 50 years. The Basic Law, the city's effective constitution, allows residents to enjoy civil liberties, including a free press and freedom of assembly, not available in mainland China.

In response to Monday's report from Britain, the Hong Kong government said in an email that it will carry out comprehensive consultation on the 2017 chief executive election in "strict accordance" with the Basic Law.

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