Hong Kong could face "disastrous" consequences if it adopts full democracy based on foreign models, a top Chinese official has warned, amid intense political debate on elections for the chief executive of the former British colony in 2017.
"It could bring disastrous results," Hong Kong media quoted Zhang Dejiang, chairman of China's National People's Congress (NPC), the country’s rubber-stamp parliament, as saying.
Zhang said Hong Kong must carry out democratic reform based on its own laws, according to a Hong Kong delegate also attending the annual NPC session session in Beijing.
"You can't just import [electoral systems] or copy foreign countries, or else it may not be a good fit with the local environment and easily enter a democratic trap," Hong Kong NPC delegate Ma Fung-kwok, quoted the congress chairman as saying.
Ma's comments to Hong Kong reporters were aired on the city's Cable TV network.
Meanwhile, the state-run news agency Xinhua quoted Zhang as saying that Hong Kong and Macau "must observe regulations of the Constitution and their Basic Laws, the territories' mini-constitutions, in seeking democracy."
Fellow Hong Kong NPC delegate Rita Fan was also present when Zhang made his remarks.
She told reporters: "[Zhang] said some people were waving the banner of universal suffrage to undermine stability in Hong Kong."
"This won't help the cause of universal suffrage," she quoted him as saying.
In January, tens of thousands of people took to the streets of the semi-autonomous territory to call for universal suffrage in the elections.
Some have called for an "Occupy" movement in the financial center's central business district.
Many had expected the former British colony to enjoy full democracy by 2017, when the city will get a new leader to replace incumbent C.Y. Leung, a Beijing-backed candidate who narrowly defeated his only opponent, who also had the support of the ruling Chinese Communist Party.
Control over candidates
While China looks set to allow Hong Kong citizens to elect their next leader in 2017, it looks likely to retain tight control over the selection process for candidates.
Hong Kong academic and pro-universal suffrage campaigner Joseph Cheng said he believes Beijing hasn't yet made a final decision on the form the 2017 elections will take.
"I think that this is meant to send a clear message to Hong Kong people that the final decision over political reform lies with the central government," said Cheng, who is convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy campaign group.
"Reading between the lines, there are many factors at work here ... and we should redouble our efforts because they haven't made a final decision," Cheng added.
Rule of law
Hong Kong current affairs commentator Camoes Tam said the cornerstone of the city's freedoms remains the rule of law, however, rather than full democracy.
"As long as they maintain the 'one country, two systems' policy, and they don't do away with Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong, we shouldn't be too concerned," Tam said.
"The keynote of the premier's work report was the rule of law for Hong Kong."
He said Zhang's comments likely indicated that only those who "love Hong Kong and love China" would be approved to stand as candidates in 2017, however.
"[Former supreme leader] Deng Xiaoping made this very clear, and his meaning was inscribed into the Basic Law," Tam said. "They said this 30 years ago, and they're saying it again today."
Democratic politicians fear that without a public nomination system, only pro-Beijing candidates will be able to run for chief executive, however.
Under the terms of its 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was guaranteed the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years.
But journalists and political analysts say that the ruling Chinese Communist Party has redoubled its ideological work efforts in the territory following mass demonstrations on July 1, 2003 against proposed anti-subversion legislation, which the government later abandoned.
They cite a growing number of occasions where comments from Beijing officials have dictated policy changes in Hong Kong, belying the "one country, two systems" agreement that underpinned the handover agreement.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service and by Yang Fan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.