China has cautioned the US not to interfere in Hong Kong affairs after US Vice President Joseph Biden met two prominent pro-democracy advocates who have warned of Beijing’s tightening control of the territory, Xinhua news agency said.
Hong Kong has been locked in a lengthy battle with Beijing’s leaders to push through reforms that could culminate in a direct election of its leader in 2017.
Tension has grown over China’s meddling in Hong Kong affairs, as well as a proposal that all candidates in the 2017 poll be vetted by a panel stacked with Beijing loyalists, which would essentially keep opposition candidates out of the running.
Anson Chan (陳方安生), a respected former senior Hong Kong official, and Martin Lee (李柱銘), one of the founders of the main opposition Democratic Party, met Biden at the White House on Friday, in one of the most high-profile attempts to flag such concerns internationally.
However, the US must “refrain from interfering,” Xinhua quoted an official of China’s Foreign Commissioner’s office in Hong Kong as saying.
The official urged the US to “proceed discreetly” on Hong Kong affairs to avoid damage to China-US ties as the territory is now in a “sensitive period” of political reform.
Earlier in their two-week trip to North America, Chan and Lee also met US House of Representatives Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and testified on China before a congressional panel.
“The future of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong is under serious threat,” US Senator Sherrod Brown said in a statement. “China is already placing ‘preconditions’ on who can run [in 2017], raising serious doubts about whether the elections will be free and fair,” Brown added.
China has agreed to let Hong Kong elect its next leader in 2017, but arrangements have yet to be hammered out, including whether public nominations of candidates will be allowed.