Britain "not relevant" in political reform: Hong Kong chief

HONG KONG (AFP) - Hong Kong's leader Sunday scoffed at calls by a British minister for greater democratic freedoms in the city, dismissing London's views as "irrelevant".

British Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire said in a newspaper opinion piece that Hong Kong's progress towards universal suffrage was "vital to its future stability" and that electoral reforms must offer voters a "genuine choice".

But Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying hit back saying the question of Hong Kong's progress towards universal suffrage was "not relevant" to Britain.

"Hong Kong does not need support from British government or any other foreign governments on the issue of political reform and universal suffrage for Chief Executive in 2017," he told reporters. "This matter is entirely within the (policy) area of the Chinese people, and is not relevant to Britain," Mr Leung said after a public forum in a local school.

His remarks echo previous frosty statements made by Beijing accusing the United States of meddling with the financial hub's internal affairs when Washington's consul general in Hong Kong spoke in favour of universal suffrage.

China has promised that the city will see a transition to universal suffrage by 2017, though critics say little or no progress has been made on the issue as the deadline draws closer.

Debate over Hong Kong's electoral reforms has revolved around how candidates will be chosen to stand for the 2017 chief executive election, with fears Beijing will restrict voters' choices. Even if the elections are held as promised, the pro-reform lobby fears Beijing will try to weaken the influence of the feisty pro-democracy camp, which has dominated previous legislative elections.

Mr Swire, a minister of state at the Foreign Office, said in an opinion piece published on the Saturday edition of the South China Morning Post: "There is no perfect model anywhere in the world, but the important thing is that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice to enable them to feel they have a real stake in the outcome." He added: "Britain stands ready to support in any way we can".

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under an agreement with Britain that grants it semi-autonomous status and enshrines civil liberties not seen in mainland China. Mr Leung said on Sunday the agreement did not stipulate the city will be guaranteed universal suffrage.

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