Beijing's top diplomat in Hong Kong has warned the American consul general to steer clear of the debate on the city's constitutional development.
Song Zhe, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' commissioner in Hong Kong, spoke out after the United States consul general Clifford Hart said he was looking forward to Hongkongers' move towards "genuine democratic suffrage". Hart made the remark just a day after he took up the post on July 30.
A spokesman for the US consulate responded that the United States' long-standing policy towards Hong Kong was unchanged. Echoing Hart's words, he added: "[We] look forward to Hong Kong's continued progress toward genuine universal suffrage … in accordance with the Basic Law … and the aspirations of the Hong Kong people."
Song's office reported that the commissioner met Hart on Tuesday and briefed him on "the successful implementation of the 'one country, two systems' policy in Hong Kong and stated the central government's position on relevant issues".
The report added: "Song emphasised that the development of Hong Kong's political system is its own internal affairs. Foreign governments and officials should not interfere.
"The Chinese side is firmly against interference in Hong Kong's affairs by any outside forces in regard to the Basic Law and the relevant decisions made by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.
"[Song] hoped that US representation and personnel in Hong Kong respect 'one country, two systems'."
The report added that they should also "refuse to use any pretext to conduct undue activities and refuse to do anything that would hurt Hong Kong's prosperity and stability and the overall interests of China-US relations".
It was the third such warning directed at US representatives in recent months. On May 16 and again on July 19, a spokesman for Song's office said that no foreign government or official should "make reckless comments about" constitutional development in Hong Kong.
It followed remarks by outgoing US consul general Stephen Young that preparations to engage all parties in discussions on electoral reform should begin as early as possible.
Hart is a Putonghua speaker with 30 years' experience, including five postings in China.
In his arrival statement on July 31, he said he felt honoured to "be here for the next phase of Hong Kong's democratic development and progress towards genuine universal suffrage under the 'one country, two systems' framework".
After a closed-door meeting with executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee on August 20, Hart was quoted by Ip as saying that "he hoped that different sectors in Hong Kong can reach consensus on universal suffrage and that people from different backgrounds can run for the election in 2017".
One of Hart's top priorities is expected to be rebuilding trust with Hong Kong following the Edward Snowden saga.
Snowden was allowed to leave Hong Kong despite a Washington request to arrest him on espionage charges.