Elections in 2017 must provide genuine choice, says British minister

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 7:38am

British Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire has added his voice to the current debate on Hong Kong's electoral reform, saying it is important for voters to have a genuine choice.

In an opinion piece published in today's South China Morning Post, the minister of state at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office says Britain has a big economic stake in seeing Hong Kong remain "prosperous, stable and energetic".

British ministers have commented previously on the introduction of universal suffrage, notably in Britain's half-yearly reports on how the Sino-British Joint Declaration is being implemented. However, Swire's words follow Beijing's recent stern warning to American consul general Clifford Hart to keep out of Hong Kong politics.

Swire, writing ahead of tomorrow's annual International Day of Democracy, says universal suffrage should be jointly decided by the governments of Hong Kong and China and the people of Hong Kong in line with the Basic Law.

"The important thing is that the people of Hong Kong have a genuine choice to enable them to feel they have a real stake in the outcome," the minister, who is a member of the British Conservative Party, writes.

"Britain stands ready to support in any way we can."

Last month, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs' commissioner in Hong Kong, Song Zhe, told Hart in person to stay out of Hong Kong politics. Hart said on his second day of work on July 30 that he was looking forward to Hongkongers' move towards "genuine democratic suffrage".

Song told Hart the development of Hong Kong's political system is its own internal affair and "foreign governments and officials should not interfere".

The ministry could not be reached for comment yesterday.

At the centre of the electoral reform debate is a proposal to let some or all voters nominate chief executive candidates in a process dubbed "civil nomination".

The director of the central government's liaison office, Zhang Xiaoming, said on Thursday civil nomination was against the Basic Law. He referred to a provision that the nomination has to be made "by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures".

Swire says certainty over the city's constitutional future is important to business and investor confidence in "Asia's leading international financial centre".

"The city is home to around 1,000 British businesses, many of which have made Hong Kong their regional hub," he writes.

"Like many others in the international community, the UK therefore has a big economic stake in seeing Hong Kong continue as the prosperous, stable and energetic centre that we see today."