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4/30/04 - HONG KONG DEMOCRACY DELAY - 2004-04-30

Many people in Hong Kong have clearly expressed their desire for democracy. Among other ways, they have made their views known through large demonstrations. They want a voice in the pace of electoral reform, including the direct election of Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2007 and the entire Legislative Council in 2008.

But on April 26th in Beijing, the Standing Committee of China’s National People’s Congress exercised its authority under Hong Kong’s Basic Law and ruled against a direct vote for Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2007 and against direct election of all Legislative Council members the following year.

U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher says this goes against “the expressed wishes of the Hong Kong people”:

“As we’ve stated before, the United States supports electoral reform and universal suffrage in Hong Kong in keeping with the Basic Law’s own goals. The Hong Kong people have taken to the streets three times to express their own support for these goals.”

Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong is a special administrative region of China with a high degree of autonomy. Currently, the chief executive is chosen by an eight-hundred-member committee. Twenty-four of the sixty members of the Legislative Council are now elected, but that number will rise to thirty in elections scheduled for September. The other legislators are chosen by business, professional, civic, and political groups.

According to Article Sixty-Eight of Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the ultimate goal is the election of all members of the Legislative Council by universal suffrage. Many democracy proponents say this should apply to the chief executive as well.

As a matter of “simple reality,” says Mr. Boucher, “the wishes of the people of Hong Kong can, should, and really must be taken into account as one talks about their future”:

“The United States believes that the Hong Kong people’s aspirations should be given priority in determining the pace and the scope of democratization in Hong Kong. International confidence in Hong Kong is based on its rule of law and the high degree of autonomy."

As White House spokesman Scott McClellan put it, the U.S. continues “to stand on the side of democratic reforms, as outlined in [Hong Kong’s] Basic Law.”