US will keep its nose out of Hong Kong poll, says envoy Clifford Hart

In cautious maiden speech, Clifford Hart vows Washington will not take sides while sticking to its basic stance on need for universal suffrage

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 September, 2013, 6:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 25 September, 2013, 4:46am

The top US envoy in Hong Kong said yesterday Washington would not support any political parties or give any prescription on reform when it came to the city's democratic development.

Clifford Hart's cautious approach in his maiden public speech came a month after Foreign Ministry Commissioner Song Zhe warned him to stay out of the city's affairs.

Speaking at a lunch hosted by the American Chamber of Commerce, the US consul general said Washington supported Hong Kong's progress towards genuine universal suffrage, but it had "no prescription".

"The United States will always stand for our core democratic values," Hart said.

He said soon after his arrival on July 30 that he was looking forward to Hongkongers' move towards "genuine democratic suffrage". He has also met various political parties in the past two months.

"The United States does not take a position for or against any particular formulation on how genuine universal suffrage is achieved," Hart said yesterday.

"We will always advocate the fundamental principles that underlie every successful democracy - open dialogue and debate, the rule of law, free and fair elections, and choice among candidates."

Asked about the Occupy Central democracy movement, Hart said the US "does not support" any political groups or movement.

Asked by a chamber member about his reaction to the criticism provoked by his earlier comments, Hart said he would be satisfied if the attention over the past two months could be maintained during the rest of his tenure. "I feel I am received quite warmly. I have no complaints," he said.

Hart refused to talk about the controversy over US whistle-blower Edward Snowden, which his predecessor Stephen Young said had damaged trust between the US and Hong Kong. Hart said he stood by Young's statement.

Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah said he hoped the US and Britain would adopt "quiet diplomacy" or it might deepen misunderstandings between Beijing and pan-democrats in Hong Kong.

"I just hope they can help facilitate mutual trust in the political reform process," he said.

Separately, Wang Guangya , director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told the city's political appointees that the debate on constitutional reform must stay rational and stick to the law. Top mainland officials have said the "public nomination" of chief executive candidates would violate the Basic Law.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, who joined Wang and 16 undersecretaries and political assistants at a closed-door meeting in Beijing yesterday, said the government would not make a quick decision.