BEIJING (AP) — President Barack Obama said Wednesday that the U.S. had no role in fostering pro-democracy protests that have shut down parts of Hong Kong for six weeks, denying allegations in Chinese state media.
Washington has no desire to get involved in the dispute between demonstrators and authorities over procedures for nominating candidates for the Chinese territory's next chief executive, Obama told reporters at a news conference in Beijing.
"These are issues ultimately for the people of Hong Kong and the people of China to decide," Obama said.
However, he added that the U.S. backed the right of people to freely express themselves, both as a matter of foreign policy and of American values. Hong Kong's elections should be fair and transparent and "reflective of the opinions of people there," Obama said.
Appearing beside Obama, Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated China's stance that the protests are illegal. Beijing would support the region's government in upholding the law and interests of both Hong Kong and foreign citizens in the financial center, Xi said.
"Hong Kong affairs are exclusively China's internal affairs and foreign countries should not interfere in those affairs in any form or fashion," Xi said.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and other protest opponents have said unspecified foreign forces provided material support to instigate and sustain the protests, though they've offered no evidence. In mid-October, the Communist Party's flagship People's Daily newspaper published a front-page commentary accusing the U.S. of fomenting the protests through the government-funded National Endowment for Democracy. The NED has denied the allegation.
Hong Kong authorities have warned that protesters face arrest if they don't leave major streets, following a court order Monday that authorized police to help enforce an order to dismantle barricades.
Local media reports say 7,000 officers are preparing to deploy to clear two protest sites, after the High Court extended restraining orders granted to taxi and minibus operators and the owner of an office tower, who complained that the protests were disrupting their businesses. With an appeal against the court orders scheduled for Thursday afternoon, any barricade removals would take place no earlier than Friday.
With neither the student-led protesters nor the Hong Kong government showing any willingness to compromise, demonstrator numbers have dwindled as the standoff drags on.
The protesters have occupied streets in three key districts since Sep. 28 to press demands for open nominations in inaugural 2017 elections to pick Hong Kong's top leader but China insists that a Beijing-friendly panel of elites must screen candidates.
AP writer Kelvin Chan in Hong Kong contributed to this report.