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Britain Disappointed by Democracy Delays in Hong Kong


Britain's foreign secretary has kicked off a trip to China with a visit to Hong Kong. He repeated his government's disappointment over Beijing's decision to delay full democracy in the former British colony. Claudia Blume reports from Hong Kong.

British foreign secretary David Miliband says his government is disappointed by Beijing's decision not to give the territory universal suffrage in 2012, as demanded by pro-democracy groups. Last year, the Chinese government announced that people in Hong Kong will only be allowed to directly elect their leaders by 2017, and all of their lawmakers by 2020.

"Our position has been very clear, which is that universal suffrage is the right end game for democracy in Hong Kong and we have also been clear that the sooner it was achieved, the better," Miliband said. "That is why we said we were disappointed about the 2012 decision."

When Britain returned its former colony to China in 1997, Beijing promised that Hong Kong would eventually have universal suffrage, but did not set a timetable.

Miliband's visit to Hong Kong Monday kicked off a five-day visit to China. Before his departure, international rights groups urged him to raise concerns about human rights during his visit. They say Beijing has failed to keep its promises to improve the situation before the Olympics. Miliband says his government continuously raises the issue during meetings with Chinese officials.

"I believe that the rule of law, individual rights, are issues not just for the Olympic year - they are issues that need to be on the agenda every year because they are important universal values," Miliband said. "My own view is that it's very much in the world's interest that the Olympics are a celebration of progress in China, while also recognizing the challenges that come from all industrialized and emerging economies as a result of economic and social change."

Miliband says he will bring up the matter of Sudan's Darfur region in talks with his counterpart, Chinese foreign minister Yang Jiechi.

China is Sudan's largest international customer for oil, but despite international criticism, has made little public effort to pressure the Sudanese government to end the crisis in Darfur. Government-backed militias are battling rebels there, creating a large humanitarian crisis. Hollywood director Steven Spielberg quit as artistic adviser to the Beijing Olympics earlier this month, to protest China's Darfur policy.