HONG KONG — ; China has ruled out full and direct democratic elections for Hong Kong's legislature in 2008 and for the Chief Executive in 2007, prompting fears that the territory's promises of a "high degree of autonomy" are fast being eroded, RFA's Mandarin and Cantonese services report.
The Standing Committee of China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), issued a ruling saying that universal suffrage wouldn't be used to elect Hong Kong's chief executive in 2007 or the territory's legislature a year later, effectively postponing any consideration of full and direct elections until 2012.
"Universal suffrage is not a free lunch," NPC Standing Committee deputy secretary-general Qiao Xiaoyang told a meeting with Hong Kong legislators when the decision was announced. "It is far more courageous to say, with an eye on Hong Kong's actual situation and long-term interests, that there should not be direct universal elections in 2007 and 2008."
Hong Kong's unpopular Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa called for calm, saying constitutional reforms weren't the top priority. "Hong Kong's basic interests lie in ensuring its economic development, and there must also be a good relationship with central government," Tung told a news conference Monday.
Pro-democracy legislators shouted angry slogans during the meeting with Qiao, at which he attempted to explain Beijing's view that Hong Kong was not ready for universal suffrage yet.
"Fight for democracy, never give up," shouted several legislators, including Yeung Sum, chairman of the Democratic Party.
Activists are planning a major rally for July 1, the anniversary of a massive march by 500,000 people that forced Tung to backtrack on an anti-subversion bill that was viewed as a threat to the basic rights and freedoms enshrined in the territory's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
Yeung called on Hong Kong people to show their dissatisfaction with the decision at the ballot box. "The only way we have of opposing Beijing's attempt to interfere directly in the running of Hong Kong is at the Legislative Council elections in September," he said.
Meanwhile, pro-Beijing political parties were more accepting of the decision. "Since the central government has already made a decision, we must respect it and not adopt a confrontational attitude," said Ma Lik, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong.
Britain and the United States expressed concern over Beijing's announcement. White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Washington favored greater democracy in Hong Kong: "We continue to stand on the side of democratic reforms, as outlined in the Basic Law," he said.
Britain protested the decision, too, saying it violated solemn promises of autonomy for the former British colony. "This decision seems to us to be inconsistent with the 'high degree of autonomy' which Hong Kong is guaranteed under the Joint Declaration," Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said in a statement.
Rammell said he would meet Beijing's ambassador to London to voice Britain's concerns with the NPC's decision. "I am also disappointed that the NPC has set limits to constitutional development in Hong Kong that are not required by the Basic Law," the territory's constitution, especially as the Hong Kong government had not yet put forward its own proposals, it said.
Under the "one country, two systems" formula set out in the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration, China pledged that Hong Kong — ; Britain's last important colony — ; would largely rule itself after the July 1997 handover.
Britain became embroiled in a bitter row with China over democracy in the run-up to 1997, with Hong Kong's last governor Chris Patten, now the European Union's external relations commissioner, attempting to introduce democratic reforms at the 11th hour.