Sun, Oct 30, 2005 - Page 4 News List

Rice pushes Tsang on democratic reforms

By Charles Snyder  /  STAFF REPORTER IN WASHINGTON

The US has chastised Hong Kong for delaying indefinitely the introduction of universal suffrage in the election of its chief executive and Legislative Council, in response to a new Hong Kong government proposal that would make only modest constitutional changes in elections in 2007 and 2008.

The US position was presented as Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權) concluded a three-day visit to Washington with a half-hour meeting with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday.

Before the meeting, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack expressed Washington's "strong support [for] universal suffrage in Hong Kong."

He told reporters that "the US believes that the goal of universal suffrage could have been achieved for the next round of chief executive and legislative council elections in 2007 and 2008."

"The goal of universal suffrage should be achieved soon, as soon as possible," McCormack said. "The people of Hong Kong should determine the pace and scope of political reform."

During his meeting with Rice, which he called a "useful exchange" on Hong Kong's democratization, Tsang told reporters that Rice did not make a specific reference to the year 2007 in their discussions.

Afterwards, a State Department spokesman was circumspect on details of the meeting, saying only that Rice "emphasized our conviction that people's mutual aspiration for fully representative democracy should be realized, especially in a sophisticated and well-developed place as Hong Kong."

At issue was a package of proposals issued on Oct. 19 by the Hong Kong government that made minor changes to the processes selecting the chief executive in 2007 and electing the Legislative Council in 2008.

The proposals would double, to 1,600 members, the committee that selects the Beijing-backed chief executive, and would expand the 60-member Legislative Council by 10. Of the added 800 members to the chief executive selection group, most would come from the membership of the so-called District Councils, which represent local districts. Most of the members added to the chief executive selection committee would also come from the district organizations.

The recommendations must be approved by two-thirds of the Legislative Council, and democratic opponents to the government in the council have vowed to scuttle the plan.

They want universal suffrage for the 2007 and 2008 elections, and complain that the government's proposals bow too much to Beijing's wish to delay further democracy in Hong Kong indefinitely.

During a press conference in Washington with the Hong Kong press on Friday, Tsang warned democrats not to reject the proposals, saying that to do so would delay any chance of further democratization until at least 2012, and would "demolish" all efforts over the past two years to expand the electoral franchise in Hong Kong.

In saying so, Tsang seemed to rule out any possibility of the government entertaining alternatives to the proposal contained in the latest report of the commission on democratization released last week.

If the proposals are rejected, "we are not going back to square one, and the next opportunity for any further improvement to be made would be in the year 2012," he told reporters.

"And what's more, it will demolish all the work we have done over the last two years, and the trust we've built up among all the parties in Hong Kong about progressing toward democratization," he said.

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