The United States has welcomed the decision by Hong Kong's government to delay action on a controversial internal security bill that generated a huge public protest last week.
The State Department says the decision by Hong Kong chief executive Tung Chee-hwa putting off action on the bill is a positive development, and it is urging the government of the territory to conduct an "open and transparent" process of consultation on the issue.
The comments follow the announcement earlier Monday that Hong Kong authorities will temporarily postpone the controversial measure that would set tough new penalties for sedition, treason and other offenses.
The amendments to Hong Kong's governing charter or Basic Law, are strongly supported by China, which took control of the territory six years ago, but bitterly opposed by many residents of the enclave, a half-million of whom demonstrated against the measure last week.
At a news briefing, State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said the announcement indicates the Hong Kong government will take steps to address the deep local and international concerns about the bill, and he expressed hope it is followed by action reinforcing democracy there:
"The controversy surrounding the legislation underscores the great importance of Hong Kong's move towards democracy," he said. "We urge the government to begin discussion of this essential component of Hong Kong success in accordance with the Basic Law's mandate. Hong Kong should make tangible progress towards the Basic Law's goal of universal suffrage, a democratically elected government answerable to the will of the people, and that's the best way to ensure the protection of fundamental freedoms in Hong Kong."
Mr. Boucher welcomed in particular the agreement by Mr. Tung Saturday to delete a provision of the bill banning groups like the Falun Gong spiritual movement which are already outlawed on the Chinese mainland.
He also praised the Hong Kong executive's decision to allow people accused of stealing state secrets under the draft law to defend themselves with the argument they had acted in the public interest.
Mr. Tung did not say how long he would defer action on the amended bill. News reports say Beijing authorities have signaled a willingness to accept some amendments but still want the security measure approved quickly by Hong Kong's Legislative Council.