Hong Kong democrats intent on vetoing vote as talks with China fizzle

Reuters News
Posted: May 31, 2015 5:12 AM

By James Pomfret

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Talks between Chinese officials and Hong Kong democrats ended in stalemate on Sunday, with democrats sticking by plans to veto a vote on political reforms in mid-June that could become a fresh flashpoint after last year's massive pro-democracy protests.

Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997, was roiled by 79 days of mass demonstrations and street occupations late last year over how its next leader is chosen in 2017.

Democrats want a leader chosen by universal suffrage, rather than from a list of pro-Beijing candidates as China is insisting.

The talks held in luxury hotel in Shenzhen represented a rare face-to-face meeting between the two sides before the keenly anticipated vote in the legislature in mid-June.

But as on previous occasions, China refused any shift from its proposed blueprint for Hong Kong's next leadership election in 2017.

Under the blueprint, a 1200-person committee stacked with Beijing loyalists will vet two to three candidates before the public is allowed a citywide vote.

Speaking after the nearly four hour meeting with democrats on Sunday, one of China's top officials in charge of Hong Kong affairs said Beijing couldn't possibly allow a "die-hard" democrat to be elected a Hong Kong's chief executive.

"We cannot let these people be elected," Wang Guangya, director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters, without mentioning specific names.

"Because if they are elected as chief executive, it will be a disaster for the country (China), it will be a disaster for Hong Kong."

The electoral blueprint requires a two-thirds majority in the 70-seat legislature to pass, with Beijing failing again on Sunday to persuade enough of the city's 27 pro-democracy lawmakers to back the package, and allow it to pass.

"The central government is intent on a fake election, they won't let Hong Kong have true universal suffrage, so the democrats have no choice and must persist in vetoing the (electoral) package," said Alan Leong, one of 14 pro-democracy lawmakers who attended the talks in Shenzhen.

No specific data has been given for the mid-June vote, but it risks becoming another flashpoint, and police have been carrying out drills to prepare for possible protests on the day.

The demonstrations that erupted in Hong Kong last year marked one of the boldest populist challenges to Beijing's Communist Party rule since the former British colony returned to Chinese control.

Hong Kong returned to China's rule under a principle of "one country, two systems" allowing it broad autonomy and far more freedom of speech, assembly and religion than exists on the mainland. But China has made it plain that Beijing's sovereignty cannot be questioned.

(Reporting by James Pomfret; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)