By James Pomfret
HONG KONG (Reuters) - China's most senior official in Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaoming, said on Friday that remarks he had made to pro-democracy lawmakers in an August 19 meeting had been misrepresented in media reports.
"I admit that during the conversation, I used the phrase 'stay alive'," Zhang wrote in a statement on the website of China's Liaison Office in Hong Kong.
Zhang made his comments after Reuters published a story on September 11 in which it reported that he had told several pro-democracy lawmakers that "the fact that you are allowed to stay alive, already shows the country's inclusiveness", according to two people who attended the August 19 meeting with Zhang and declined to be named.
Zhang’s office did not respond to several faxed requests for comment before the September 11 story was published. The article, which was picked up by other media outlets, focused on the showdown between pro-democracy forces and Beijing over political reform in Hong Kong.
Zhang said in the statement on Friday night that his intended meaning was that Beijing had already shown "great political inclusiveness" in allowing some democrat lawmakers to run for legislative office in Hong Kong. He said media reports of the meeting had a “malicious intention”.
The sources told Reuters in the September 11 story that Zhang had been responding to a question by democratic lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, who asked whether a democrat like himself could run in an election for the highest office in the city.
The meeting took place before China delivered its decision on August 31 on political reform in Hong Kong, which is governed under the “one country, two systems” arrangement which affords the city’s residents a high degree of autonomy and freedoms not enjoyed by Chinese on the mainland.
One of the lawmakers quoted in the Reuters article said on Saturday that he was standing by his version of events. “I haven't misspoken," Lee Cheuk-yan, who attended the meeting with Zhang on August 19 and decided to speak on-record after Zhang’s statement, said in a phone interview.
Reuters said in a statement on Friday: "We stand by our story and the original quote from Zhang Xiaoming, which was obtained from two independent sources who attended the meeting, as well as the accuracy of the Reuters translation." The statement was issued after some media and blogs said that Zhang’s comments had been mistranslated.
(Editing by Peter Hirschberg)