News / Asia

Hong Kong Reform Dispute Persists as Consultation Ends

FILE - A policeman stands on a footbridge leading to the government headquarters complex in Hong Kong.
FILE - A policeman stands on a footbridge leading to the government headquarters complex in Hong Kong.
Hong Kong's government is receiving final submissions of public proposals for how to introduce universal suffrage for the election of the autonomous Chinese territory's next leader in 2017.
 
Officials will end the five-month consultation exercise on Saturday, and will release their own electoral reform plan sometime in the next year. That plan must win the approval of two-thirds of Hong Kong's legislators before it can take effect for the 2017 election of the chief executive, the city's top job.
 
The Hong Kong government says it wants to present lawmakers with a document reflecting a public consensus that will advance the territory's democratic development.
 
But the consultation period has shown that wide gaps remain between the city's two main political camps: one that demands a faster pace of democratization, and the other that advocates a more conservative approach favored by the government and its political superiors in Beijing.
 
Hong Kong's constitution, or Basic Law, says chief executive candidates should be nominated by a "broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures." Such a body likely would be based on an existing, largely pro-government committee that has elected all of the territory's leaders since 1997, when Britain returned Hong Kong to China.
 
Pro-democracy activists fear the government will propose forming a nominating committee also dominated by pro-establishment members who will block the candidacies of anyone deemed insufficiently loyal to Beijing.
 
Lobbying campaign
 
Veteran pro-democracy campaigners and former lawmakers Anson Chan and Martin Lee raised that concern in meetings with U.S. Vice President Joe Biden and members of Congress in Washington in early April.
Anson Chan, former Hong Kong Chief Secretary and former lawmaker, speaking to VOA at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, April 2, 2014.Anson Chan, former Hong Kong Chief Secretary and former lawmaker, speaking to VOA at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, April 2, 2014.
x
Anson Chan, former Hong Kong Chief Secretary and former lawmaker, speaking to VOA at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, April 2, 2014.
Anson Chan, former Hong Kong Chief Secretary and former lawmaker, speaking to VOA at the National Endowment for Democracy in Washington, April 2, 2014.

 
In an interview with VOA at Washington's National Endowment for Democracy, Chan accused Beijing officials of trying to exert undue influence over the electoral reform process. In recent months, those officials have said chief executive candidates must "love the country (China) and Hong Kong," a controversial phrase not explicitly stated in the Basic Law.
 
"The bottom line is, we want credible proposals that give voters a genuine choice," said Chan, Hong Kong's former chief secretary, or number two official. "The proposals should not set down unreasonable restrictions to prevent people from standing for election, and should not rule out people of different political affiliations."
 
She also said Chinese "interference" is eroding the "core values" of Hong Kong, an international financial center whose residents enjoy greater freedoms of the press, religion and assembly than citizens of mainland China.
 
"We share these core values with the United States and many other trading partners," Chan said. "And if we can no longer maintain these core values, then our business prospects at the end of the day will be adversely affected."
 
Different approaches
 
Other members of Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp also want a "genuine" choice of chief executive candidates, but disagree about how to achieve that.
 
The most reform-minded pan-democrats say the nominating committee must approve any candidate who wins significant public nominations from voters or established political parties.
 
Chan's Hong Kong 2020 group advocates a more modest system in which voters cannot nominate candidates directly, but can elect about one-quarter of the members of the nominating committee. The other members would be chosen by various industry group representatives, many of whom favor the establishment. Up to now, those representatives have chosen almost all members of previous chief executive election committees.
 
Chan and her fellow activist Lee have faced strong criticism for lobbying U.S. officials to support their cause. Chinese state media have accused the pair of trying to invite foreign intervention in China's affairs.
 
More criticism comes from Hong Kong's pro-establishment camp.
 
Backlash grows
 
New People's Party leader and lawmaker Regina Ip, Hong Kong's former security chief, told VOA that the actions of Chan and Lee are "totally inappropriate."
FILE - Regina Ip, former Hong Kong Secretary for Security.FILE - Regina Ip, former Hong Kong Secretary for Security.
x
FILE - Regina Ip, former Hong Kong Secretary for Security.
FILE - Regina Ip, former Hong Kong Secretary for Security.

 
"If they want constitutional change, they should lobby our own government and the authorities in Beijing," said Ip, speaking by phone from Hong Kong.
 
"The opinions of big countries such as the United States and Britain are becoming increasingly irrelevant, because Beijing is getting more confident by the day and is very sensitive to external interference. So trying to leverage external forces to pressure Beijing would send the wrong signals and really hurt our democratic cause."
 
Ip said Chinese officials who comment on Hong Kong's reform debate only have stated the obvious - that nominations of chief executive candidates must conform to the Basic Law, which does not specifically give the public a say in the process.
 
Facing realities
 
"The democratic model under the Basic Law is a limited one because we are a part of China, we are not an independent political entity," Ip said. "The constitution was designed to preserve the capitalist economy of Hong Kong, so that we would not become too populist or anti-China."
 
Ip's party says Hong Kong can have a competitive leadership election with a nominating committee modeled on the previous election committee, but whose members are chosen by an expanded group of representatives from a wider variety of social sectors, such as the elderly, youths, women and minorities.
 
But many Hong Kongers are pessimistic about democratic reform.
 
A survey released Wednesday by the Hong Kong Transition Project an independent research group, shows that 72 percent of respondents with an opinion have little or no faith in the government implementing a fair system for the 2017 election.

LISTEN: VOA Interviews with Regina Ip and Anson Chan
  Anson Chan tells VOA’s Michael Lipin what she thinks of Beijing’s role in the dispute about electoral reform. 
  VOA’s Michael Lipin asks Regina Ip what she thinks of Anson Chan and Martin Lee’s lobbying visit to Washington.

Michael Lipin

Michael covers international news for VOA on the web, radio and TV, specializing in the Middle East and East Asia Pacific. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Lipin

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

America's Most Exotic Presidential Pets

From alligators to bears, the White House has been home to some unusual presidential pets over the years More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugeesi
X
Carolyn Weaver
July 06, 2015 6:47 PM
In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Making Music, Fleeing Bombs: New Film on Sudan’s Internal Refugees

In 2012, Sudanese filmmaker Hajooj Kuka went to make a documentary among civil war refugees in Sudan’s Blue Nile and Nuba Mountains region. What he found surprised him: music was helping to save people from bombing raids by their own government. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.
Video

Video Rice Farmers Frustrated As Drought Grips Thailand

A severe drought in Thailand is limiting the growing season of the country’s important rice crop. Farmers are blaming the government for not doing more to protect a key export. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai, Thailand.
Video

Video 'From This Day Forward' Reveals Difficult Journey of Transgender Parent

In her documentary, "From This Day Forward", filmmaker Sharon Shattuck reveals the personal journey of her transgender father, as he told his family that he always felt he was a woman inside and decided to live as one. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Floodwaters Threaten Iconic American Home

The Farnsworth House in the Midwest State of Illinois is one of the most iconic homes in America. Thousands of tourists visit the site every year. Its location near a river inspired the design of the house, but, as VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, that very location is now threatening the existence of this National Historic Landmark.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.

VOA Blogs