Hong Kong protests: U.S. to press China's foreign minister on Hong Kong rights

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - China's foreign minister was expected to hear calls from U.S. leaders for Beijing's restraint over mass pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong when he meets U.S. government leaders in Washington on Wednesday.

Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel and was later visiting the White House and State Department. His Washington talks were to prepare for President Barack Obama's visit to China in November but were overshadowed by the Hong Kong events.

The United States has backed calls by protesters for greater autonomy in selecting candidates for Hong Kong's chief executive and U.S. officials said Secretary of State John Kerry would express that view to Wang. The protesters, mostly students, are demanding full democracy and have called on chief executive Leung Chun-ying to step down. Beijing ruled a month ago that it would vet candidates wishing to run for Hong Kong's leadership in 2017.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Kerry was expected to say that the Hong Kong chief executive's legitimacy would be enhanced if people had a genuine choice of candidates. Other issues affecting the two major powers were also on the agenda, as Obama presses his 'pivot' to refocus U.S. attention increasingly on Asia.

The United States has been carefully calibrating its response to the demonstrations, voicing support for non-violent protests, while signalling it has little interest in seeing them escalate and risk a harsher crackdown by Chinese authorities. U.S. officials have steadfastly denied Chinese accusations of meddling in Beijing's internal affairs.

Any U.S. response to the Hong Kong protests is a tricky balancing act, given Beijing's transformation into a global economic powerhouse and how interdependent the U.S. and Chinese economies have become since the Tiananmen crackdown in 1989.

Obama is due to travel to Beijing in November for an Asia-Pacific summit and a meeting with Chinese President and Communist Party leader Xi Jinping.

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