BERLIN (AP) — Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said Friday he's confident "social stability" can be preserved in Hong Kong and stressed that Beijing won't change its "one country, two systems" approach to running the territory.
Li met German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin as protesters gathered for a pro-democracy rally in Hong Kong, a day after the semi-autonomous city's government called off talks with student leaders. Students have been protesting restrictions on the first direct election for Hong Kong's leader, promised for 2017.
Li didn't mention the demonstrations directly. However, he said preserving Hong Kong's "long-term prosperity and stability" is not just in China's interest but in that of the former British colony's residents.
"I am convinced that Hong Kongers, with their wisdom, are in a position — and that the (Hong Kong) government has the authority — to preserve the prosperity of the city and also social stability," said Li, speaking through an interpreter. He said the regional government "will also protect the inhabitants of the city from injury or material damage."
When negotiating the handover of Hong Kong from Britain, China's Communist leaders agreed to a "one country, two systems" that would preserve Western-style civil liberties and broad autonomy, promising eventual democracy.
Li said Beijing always implemented the "two systems" approach "and it will stay that way."
Merkel has called for freedom of speech to be protected in Hong Kong, and pressed that point on Friday.
"The demonstrations have gone peacefully, and I hope it can remain that way ... and that, in a free exchange of opinions, solutions are found that satisfy the population in Hong Kong," she told reporters.
Li said that "all foreign investors' legitimate interests in Hong Kong" will be protected but stressed that Hong Kong is a domestic matter for China.
At Friday's meeting, Germany and China signed a series of agreements on matters to increase cooperation in areas such as research, health and technology.
China is a key market for Germany, even as its growth cools. China was Germany's No. 3 trading partner last year and its biggest outside Europe, with trade totaling 140.7 billion euros ($179 billion).
Frank Jordans contributed to this report.