HK democracy should meet people's aspirations: British Foreign Secretary

HONG KONG (AFP) - British Foreign Secretary William Hague on Tuesday said Hong Kong's universal suffrage must meet the "aspirations" of the people, in remarks likely to anger Beijing.

The comments, made in a six-monthly report prepared for Britain's Parliament regarding the development of the former colony, is the second time in less than a year that Mr Hague has publicly spoken out on an issue Beijing insists is a purely internal matter.

China has promised the city it will see a transition to universal suffrage by 2017, but has ruled out demands that voters should be able to choose which candidates can stand for the top position.

"I believe the best way to preserve Hong Kong's strengths is through a transition to universal suffrage which meets the aspirations of the people of Hong Kong," Mr Hague said in the report, according to a statement put out by the British consulate in Hong Kong.

"The ultimate shape of the constitutional reform package will be for the people of Hong Kong, and the governments of Hong Kong and China to decide," Mr Hague added.

The southern Chinese city started a public consultation in December over how to elect its leader in 2017.

Beijing, which took back Hong Kong in 1997, has promised that its people will be able to vote for their next chief executive.

Currently the leader is elected by a 1,200-strong pro-Beijing committee.

But many pro-democrats fear that China will control the choice of candidates to secure the election of a sympathetic official.

The future of Hong Kong's democratic system is a highly charged issue in the southern Chinese city, regularly sparking large protests in favour of greater suffrage.

On January 1 an estimated 30,000 demonstrators marched through the city to demand a larger say in choosing their future leaders.

In the last six-monthly report published in July, Mr Hague said proposals for democratic reform should give Hong Kong people a genuine choice.

Two months later, British Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire wrote that democratic reform is "vital" to the city's future stability, in a column for a local newspaper, prompting rebukes from Hong Kong officials.

The city's Beijing-appointed Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said London's views were "irrelevant" to the democratic reform progress.

Beijing's foreign ministry also hit back at remarks made by the city's last colonial leader Chris Patten, who said that resisting the right for Hong Kong citizens to elect their own government is akin to "spitting in the wind", saying that the remarks were "unwarranted".

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule under an agreement with Britain that grants it semi-autonomous status and enshrines civil liberties not seen in mainland China.

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