US Congressman says engagement with China has diminished under Xi

HONG KONG (Reuters) - A United States Congressman told reporters that China's engagement with US lawmakers has diminished under President Xi Jinping in a marked change from the policy of his predecessors.

He also said that Chinese and Hong Kong officials were looking for a scapegoat when they blamed last years' pro-democracy protests on "foreign forces".

"I think it has diminished," Congressman Matt Salmon said of China's engagement with US lawmakers under President Xi. "This president has a whole different philosophy. In fact I think if anything, this president is moving in the other direction, (away) from constructive engagement from the past two presidents."

Salmon is chairman of the subcommittee on Asia and the Pacific under the House Committee on Foreign Affairs. The Republican representative from Arizona is in the middle of his fifth term in Congress.

Salmon was in Hong Kong as the head of a US Congressional delegation, which also visited Vietnam and discussed political, trade and economic issues.

Salmon said he had not been contacted by anyone from the Chinese Embassy since he became chairman of the Asia Pacific subcommittee. "It's kind of strange because every other embassy in the region has reached out to me, and their ambassadors have asked for an audience with me, every one of them except for China," he said.

The United States and China are the world's two biggest economies. Chinese President Xi is scheduled to make his first state visit to the United States in September as the countries seek to ease tensions over issues ranging from trade and human rights to Internet hacking and theft.

Salmon said he and his delegation had met Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying and told him the United States had not played any role in last year's pro-democracy protests, in which tens of thousands of people occupied major highways for two and a half months to demand open nominations in the city's next chief executive election.

Chinese and Hong Kong officials have blamed "foreign forces"for instigating the unrest, which Salmon said was "a convenient way to scapegoat someone else".

He added, "It kind of shifts the responsibility away from reality ... The reality is that there is growing sentiment in this country toward self-determination - not necessarily independence, but autonomy."

A statement from Leung's office on Friday evening said he had met the delegation to discuss Hong Kong's role as an economic and trade link between the United States, mainland China and Asia and the Hong Kong government's proposal for electoral reform.

The proposal reflects a decision by China's parliament last August to allow a vote in Hong Kong, but only between pre-screened candidates.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China, returned to Chinese Communist Party rule in 1997 by the British under a "one country, two systems" framework, which gave it a separate judiciary and some autonomy from the mainland but reserved ultimate authority for Beijing.

Hong Kong lawmakers are due to vote on the government's electoral proposal in late June or early July. The pan-democrats, who have a veto majority, have vowed to block it.