China voices ‘regret’ over defeat of Hong Kong electoral change plans

CHINA has expressed regret over the defeat of Hong Kong’s controversial Beijing-backed electoral plans, saying the result of the vote was something it was “unwilling to see”.

Hong Kong lawmakers rejected a Beijing-backed political reform package on June 18. Picture: AFP
Hong Kong lawmakers rejected a Beijing-backed political reform package on June 18. Picture: AFP

Foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang reiterated Beijing’s support for the proposal, saying it remained the best hope for the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s continued prosperity.

“That the chief executive of the Special Administrative Region’s government should not be elected as such in 2017 is a result we are unwilling to see,” Lu said, using a standard Chinese expression of regret.

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Since Hong Kong is part of China, the reforms are a domestic matter and no other countries are permitted to intervene, Lu said.

Following a lengthy debate, 28 lawmakers voted against the proposals, which had sparked huge street protests in the southern Chinese city last year. Eight others voted in favour.

The proposals would have allowed Hong Kong residents to vote directly for the chief executive in 2017, but only after the candidates had been approved by Beijing. Opponents said that fell short of Beijing’s pledge of true universal suffrage.

The crucial legislature vote ended in a confusing anticlimax when most pro-establishment lawmakers walked out moments before it began.

Even if the lawmakers had remained, the proposal would have been rejected because the government needed at least 47 of 70 votes for approval.

Outside the legislature, pro-democracy supporters cheered the result. “This is the result that we want, so everyone is very happy,” said 19-year-old student Sylvia Leung.

The defeat marks the end of the territory’s most tumultuous year since Beijing took control in 1997. Hong Kong has been hit by chaotic and unruly protests since Beijing decreed last summer that it wanted elections to be restricted. Tens of thousands of people, most of them students, took to the streets in response, occupying busy thoroughfares for 11 weeks last autumn to protest at what they called “fake democracy”.

The defeat raises the prospect of a political stalemate for years to come.

Hong Kong chief secretary Carrie Lam told lawmakers just before the vote that she was “sad and disappointed” knowing that the proposal would be defeated.

“I don’t know when democratisation can be taken forward,” she said. Hong Kong and Beijing officials have said that, in the event of a defeat, leaders would continue to be handpicked by a 1,200-member panel of local elites.

The former British colony retains its own legal and financial system and civil liberties such as freedom of speech not seen on the mainland. Hong Kong’s current leader, chief executive Leung Chun-ying, said he was “disappointed” with the defeat and signaled that the government would not attempt to restart democratic development during the two years remaining in his term.

Leung told reporters: “In the coming two years, the Hong Kong government will focus efforts on the various economic development and livelihood issues.”