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China sends reminder of who's in charge in Hong Kong

Beijing stresses it has the comprehensive power to govern Hong Kong, according to a white paper issued by the State Council on Tuesday.

HONG KONG: A week after about 180,000 people turned out in Hong Kong in a protest widely seen as being directed at China's Communist leadership, Beijing has issued a ringing defence of its oversight of the territory, saying it has promoted democratic reforms and ensured the territory’s economic success.

The White Paper was issued on Tuesday just as pro-democracy elements in Hong Kong have been agitating for Beijing to finally allow universal suffrage, amid signs that the Communist Party leadership will continue to exert strong control over who gets chosen to run the territory’s government.

The high turnout at the June 4 vigil marking the 25th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square crackdown has been cited by activists as evidence that anti-Beijing passions could fuel planned pro-democracy Occupy Central protests later in the year.

The city must understand that its autonomy comes from the Chinese government and “is not an inherent power”, the State Council said in the paper. The system of “One Country, Two Systems”, introduced by former leader Deng Xiaoping, must maintain China’s interests, it said.

“Some are even confused or lopsided in their understanding of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the Basic Law,” it said in the paper. “Many wrong views that are currently rife in Hong Kong concerning its economy, society and development of its political structure are attributable to this.”

Hong Kong was granted its own legal system and autonomy over most matters for 50 years under the Basic Law, the city’s de facto Constitution, after Britain returned it to China in 1997.

The paper cited the economic progress the territory had made since the handover. “Hong Kong got rid of colonial rule and returned to the embrace of the motherland, and embarked on the broad road of common development with the mainland, as they complemented each other’s advantages,” it said.

It cited Hong Kong’s 3.4 per cent average annual growth rate since the handover, with the flourishing of the banking, trade and shipping industries. While far below China’s growth rate for that period, the territory has experienced sustained prosperity as it benefited from the country’s economic boom.

Meanwhile, the debate over how to elect Hong Kong’s next leader in 2017 has divided the city, with some pro-democracy groups threatening protests in the business district from as early as next month if the public cannot nominate candidates.

Chinese leaders have repeatedly said candidates must be vetted by a committee, based on existing laws.

The White Paper argues, conversely, that democracy has in fact taken deeper root under Beijing’s rule.

Beijing and the local government “have unswervingly and steadily promoted Hong Kong’s democratic political system, featuring the election methods for the chief executive and the Legislative Council”, the report said, adding that the election of the territory’s chief executive “has become increasingly democratic”.

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