Beijing's top man in Hong Kong urges city to focus on economy, not politics

HONG KONG (REUTERS) - China's most senior official in Hong Kong said on Monday the city should shift its focus away from worrying about political reform and concentrate instead on economic development and improving people's livelihoods.

Mr Zhang Xiaoming, the head of China's Liaison Office in the Asian financial centre, was speaking nearly two weeks after Hong Kong's legislature rejected a Beijing-backed electoral reform package in a dramatic vote.

The rejection was a rare instance of Hong Kong, a former British colony that reverted to Chinese rule in 1997, voting so heavily against a proposal endorsed by Beijing. While Hong Kong is part of China, it is governed as a Special Administrative Region (SAR), which means it has a different legal system and enjoys freedoms not permitted on the mainland.

"The whole society should make concerted efforts to support the SAR government in shifting the focus to developing the economy, improving people's livelihood and promoting social harmony," said Mr Zhang. "From today, I will shut up and refrain from talking about political reform issues on public occasions," added Mr Zhang, who was speaking at a Chinese General Chamber of Commerce event in Hong Kong.

His comments echoed those of Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, who emphasised after the reform proposal was vetoed the need for the city to focus on economic stability.

On June 18, only 37 of the 70 members of the Legislative Council were present when the vote on the electoral blueprint took place. Of these, 28 legislators voted against the proposal and just eight voted in favour. One did not cast a vote.

Beijing had pressured the city's pro-democracy lawmakers to back the blueprint that would have allowed a direct vote for the city's next chief executive in 2017, but only among pre-screened, pro-Beijing candidates.

Members of Hong Kong's pro-democracy opposition and students occupied key streets for months last year in protest at what they call Beijing's "fake" democratic model.

In a sign of lingering tensions, Beijing supporters and pro-democracy activists clashed in scuffles late on Sunday, forcing police to separate the two groups.