China election ruling expected to trigger protests

CHINA has warned against any foreign interference in a crucial ruling on Hong Kong’s political future today, saying Beijing will not tolerate the use of the former British colony “as a bridgehead to subvert and infiltrate the mainland”.

Hong Kong is bracing for a repeat of recent street clashes as activists plan to blockade the business district over restrictions on who can stand in the 2017 elections. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

China’s largely “rubber-stamp” parliament is set to meet today, when it is expected to limit 2017 elections for Hong Kong’s leader to a handful of pro-Beijing candidates.

The move is likely to spark a planned blockade of the city’s central business district today.

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According to state media, an unidentified spokesman from the Chinese foreign ministry’s Department of Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan Affairs said China would promptly “make solemn representations” to any “external force” that interfered in Hong Kong’s internal affairs.

Hong Kong is a special administrative region (SAR) of China, administered by what is known as the Basic Law.

The unidentified spokesman told the Chinese state news agency Xinhua that “some people” ignored the long-term interests of Hong Kong and the provisions of the Basic Law “to collude with external forces in an attempt to interfere with the SAR government administration”.

This was done “not only to undermine the stability and development of Hong Kong but also to attempt to use Hong Kong as a bridgehead to subvert and infiltrate the mainland”, the spokesman said. “This will absolutely not be tolerated.”

He did not identify any outside countries.

In 2013, United States envoy to Hong Kong Clifford Hart said Washington would continue to back “genuine universal suffrage” there.

Such a strongly worded statement from the ministry signals increasing anxiety among Chinese leaders about the outcome of today’s decision, which will be watched closely by diplomats and international human rights groups.

The expected decision to limit the number of candidates for the 2017 elections could trigger a showdown with pro-democracy demonstrators who are planning an “Occupy Central” campaign. The Hong Kong government will deploy a quarter of its 28,000 police for the expected protest tonight.

Edward Chin Chi-kin, spokesman for Occupy Central, told the Hong-Kong-based South China Morning Post: “We have seen the influx of mainland capital from unknown sources into Hong Kong, which can only get worse as political power remains in the hands of a small bunch of people.”

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under a principle of “one country, two systems”, allowing it greater freedoms than exist on the mainland. But there have been fierce debates in the past year over how its next leader is chosen in 2017 – by universal suffrage, as the democrats would like, or from a list of pro-Beijing candidates.

China has made it plain that Beijing’s sovereignty cannot be questioned and has ratcheted up its control – despite promises to grant the city a high degree of autonomy and eventual universal suffrage – alarming many in Hong Kong and international observers.

In a separate report, Xinhua said China would speed up trade liberalisation with Hong Kong by the end of 2015 under the existing Closer Economic Partnership Arrangement.

In neighbouring Macau, another Chinese SAR, chief executive Fernando Chui is widely expected to be “re-elected” today after his pro-China government stifled an unofficial referendum on democracy in the gambling hub.