The people of Taiwan cannot take much solace in the recent legislative election in Hong Kong, even though there was a record turnout and two-thirds of the voters opted for pro-democracy candidates, a senior US official said.
The election and the campaign showed that "Beijing continues to exhibit some discomfort with democratization and the potential implications of that," Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Randall Schriver said on Thursday.
"So, that probably doesn't give a lot of confidence to the people of Taiwan who watch these things closely," he said.
Schriver made the comments in response to questions from the Taiwan media after appearing of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China.
Saying that the Hong Kong and Taiwan issues are separate in Washington's eyes, Schriver noted that "Taiwan has its own democracy. They've successfully concluded several elections now, and we have a lot of confidence in the democracy of Taiwan."
At the hearing, Schriver praised the people of Hong Kong for turning out in record numbers and voting overwhelmingly for pro-democracy candidates, but offered only muted criticism of efforts attributed to Beijing to intimidate voters during the campaign. He called the election "a step forward" toward democratization in Hong Kong, but "insufficient in meeting the ultimate goal, which even Beijing has embraced," of universal suffrage.
The record turnout, Schriver said, was "a clear message to both the government of Hong Kong and the central authorities in Beijing that the people of Hong Kong want democracy and value it very much, and they want it sooner rather than later."
Schriver gave only passing notice to charges of voter intimidation and a "climate of fear" in the run-up to the election, and a campaign "marred by scandal-mongering and allegations of not-too-subtle pressure" from Beijing.
"Even Beijing realizes as this point that in order to move their agenda, that they need to find a way to mobilize genuine support within LegCo [Legislative Council], within the population of Hong Kong to insure their own success," he added.
He called Beijing's decision last April to bar universal suffrage "regrettable," but offered no other comment on the issue. "We want to see Hong Kong succeed. The best means to that end, in our view, is a steady evolution of Hong Kong toward its democratic future. That future should rightfully be in [Hong Kong peoples'] hands, for them to decide," Schriver said.
But, in a nod to Beijing's concerns over US interference in Hong Kong affairs, he said, "We don't seek to usurp their decisions, nor do we intend to interfere with the Hong Kong people's relationship with their central government in Beijing."
His testimony on Thursday was in sharp contrast to his tough comments before Congress in March, when he testified before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee on US policy toward the territory.
"US-China relations will suffer if the cause of freedom and democracy suffers in Hong Kong." Schriver said at the time.
"It is important that China understand our strong interest in the preservation of Hong Kong's current freedoms" and interest in continued democratization, he added.