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Beijing May Move Towards Democracy For Hong Kong

by Mary Swire, Tax-News.com, Hong Kong

27 December 2007


After Hong Kong's Chief Executive Donald Tsang called on China to allow greater democracy in the former British colony in his recent report to Beijing, the Chinese leadership has given its first indication that it may be prepared to countenance a move towards universal suffrage in the next ten years.

Universal suffrage is described in Articles 45 and 68 of the Basic Law (the constitution of Hong Kong) as the 'ultimate aim'. Currently, the chief executive is chosen by an electoral college, and only half of the 60 members of LegCo are directly elected.

The message from China over the weekend, delivered by an official of Beijing's office in Hong Kong, and couched as usual in obscure language, stated that Donald Tsang's statement on the issue in his report 'fully reflected the aspirations of the Hong Kong public'.

The National People's Congress Standing Committee, the Chinese body which exercises control over Hong Kong, issued a decision in April 2004 prohibiting direct elections for the chief executive in 2007 and for the members of LegCo in 2008.

Mr Tsang stated in his report that there is public desire for universal suffrage to elect the chief executive in 2012. The Chinese official reportedly said that the Standing Committee would give 'active consideration' to this opinion. The Committee is debating Tsang's report during a meeting this week. Following the meeting, several senior Committee members are due to visit Hong Kong to explain their conclusions to legislators.

Needless to say, democracy activists in Hong Kong, who have organized major pro-democracy demonstrations in the past, have dismissed Tsang's wording as too weak. Commentators suggest that Beijing will not allow universal suffrage in 2012, but may do so in 2017, although possibly with safeguards.


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