US urges Hong Kong to start early on talks for universal suffrage
US consul general acknowledges 'painful' and 'tough' challenges to introduction of universal suffrage, but says debate is healthy
Universal suffrage could be achieved in different ways but Hong Kong needed to stay true to its spirit, the United States' most senior diplomatic representative in the city said yesterday.
"The key is [the word] 'universal'," said Stephen Young, who is due to step down as the US consul-general.
Young also told the media, after a speech at the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong, that preparations to engage all parties in discussions on electoral reforms should begin as early as possible.
The United Nations' definition of universal suffrage - which included the right to vote and to be elected in free and fair elections in conditions of equality openness and transparency that stimulated political competition - is an important one, said Young.
It was also a principle which many countries had adopted, and which China had also acknowledged.
The current public debate on the subject was healthy, said Young, and was testament to how "one country, two systems" had benefitted Hong Kong, allowing the city to build its own character.
"Talking about it is fleshing it out," he said, adding that it would take time to reform an electoral process.
Young acknowledged that there were some sharp political and philosophical differences to bridge, and that it was "painful to watch our government trying to find answers to tough but not unsurpassable problems".
"But compared to some countries and governments in this area of the world, we are doing alright," he said.
Regarding the Occupy Central movement, Young said is was important for Hong Kong to preserve its freedom of speech and to exercise it, but it needs to be done within the law.
Young also said that the probe into former ICAC chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming was a sign of Hong Kong's resilience and strength in fighting corruption.
The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau had no comment on Young's remarks.
In 2011, Young was attacked by pro-Beijing newspapers for trying to influence Hong Kong affairs. However, Young maintained that the consulate was only seeking to understand, and not influence, local affairs.
Young will be stepping down from his post this summer, and will be succeeded by Clifford Hart.