Hong Kong needs no help with universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 26 September, 2013, 12:05am

Non-interference has long been the backbone of China's foreign policy. So it came as no surprise that British and US officials have been strongly criticised when commenting on Hong Kong's universal suffrage. For years, Beijing has spared no efforts in fending off remarks it sees as meddling in the city's internal affairs. The view, however, is not shared by foreign diplomats, who think they have a legitimate interest in speaking up. Like it or not, the war of words will probably intensify as the universal suffrage debate heats up. But the truth is that phony diplomacy does little to advance the cause. How democracy should be achieved is, ultimately, an issue for the people of Hong Kong to resolve.

The chief executive was right in saying that universal suffrage was not mentioned in the Sino-British Joint Declaration. But that does not deprive London of the right and obligation to speak up as a former sovereign. The declaration says the city's leader shall be selected by election or through consultations held locally. The promise of universal suffrage is later enshrined in Basic Law Article 45. Given that our prosperity and stability hinges on how well the Basic Law is implemented - and that Britain has such close ties with its former colony - the strong interest it shows in our democratic reform is to be expected.

Britain and the US' stress on giving Hongkongers a genuine choice cannot be faulted. That Britain "stands ready to support in any way it can" on democracy may merely be a goodwill gesture. But the Chinese clearly see the issue in a different way, saying it amounts to intervention. The echoes from some British-friendly politicians have fuelled more conspiracies.

The strong reaction by some Beijing-backed local newspapers to US consul general Clifford Hart's speech shows the central government will not hesitate to condemn what it sees as foreign interference. But if experience over the past 16 years is any reference, Britain and the US are unlikely to shut up as a result. Hong Kong has always been cosmopolitan. Being an open and autonomous city in a communist country keeps us prominent on the international radar screen. The strong presence of multinational companies and foreign consular corps underlines our relevance to the world.

Hong Kong's democracy does not need overseas support or endorsement. The city is mature enough to handle its affairs, taking into account the framework laid down in the Basic Law.