BEIJING (REUTERS) - China's top newspaper on Friday dismissed fears that the autonomy of the former British colony of Hong Kong was being eroded, saying Beijing's policy had not and would not change, following mass pro-democracy protests earlier in the week.
In a front-page commentary, the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, said the white paper published by Beijing last month was proof that China was committed to Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy.
"Some people think that the white paper deviated from the basic policy the centre (of the party) first proposed, and others worry about whether the centre will squeeze Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy," it wrote.
"This is all totally baseless," it said.
But critics say the white paper's assertion of China's "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong, as well as its requirement that the city's "administrators", including judges, be patriotic, are violations of the Basic Law and the agreement that China signed with Britain which paved the way for the handover.
Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy under an agreed formula of "one country, two systems", allowing protests such as Tuesday's march for greater democracy to take place.
But pro-democracy activists say China is failing to make good on its promise of universal suffrage. They want elections in 2017 in which everyone can cast a vote for the chief executive. China wants only pro-Beijing candidates on the ballot.
The People's Daily admitted that in the 1980s, when Beijing came up with its proposals for Hong Kong, some people in the territory feared China's changing its position. But since former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping promised the high degree of autonomy and it was written into Hong Kong's Basic Law, which governs its relationship with the mainland, the country's leaders have never veered from this course, it said.
Hong Kong has kept its capitalist system and way of life and maintained its position as a global financial hub, the newspaper added.
"Experience proves the centre keeps its promises, and the centre's basic policy towards Hong Kong is completely correct," it said.
Hong Kong's long-term stability and best interests could only be guaranteed by following Beijing's "one country, two systems" policy, the newspaper wrote. "The centre's basic policy towards Hong Kong has, from the very start, not changed, and there will certainly be no change,"it added.