Xi Jinping urges Hongkongers to show pragmatism on political reform
President calls for consensus on 2017 election, backs work of Leung Chun-ying and his team; CY says he's confident of progress on reform
Jeffie Lam in Beijing and Tony Cheung
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President Xi Jinping yesterday urged Hongkongers to show pragmatism and foster consensus on arrangements to elect their chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017.
On the penultimate day of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's visit to Beijing, Xi told Leung that he and his administration had been "seeking change while maintaining stability, and putting the people first".
"The central government affirms your and the SAR government's work," he said.
Xi was accompanied by National People's Congress chairman Zhang Dejiang , Vice-president and Politburo member Li Yuanchao , and Wang Guangya , head of the State Council's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office. The president devoted the second half of his opening remarks to political reform. He said debate must stay within the legal framework.
"The central government's stance is consistent and clear," Xi said. "I hope all Hongkongers will start a pragmatic discussion based on the stipulations of the Basic Law and the decision made by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress to forge consensus."
The standing committee ruled in 2007 there could be universal suffrage for the 2017 poll.
Xi added that the Communist Party's third plenum had intensified the nation's economic reform and would foster co-operation between the mainland and Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan.
In response, Leung told Xi he was confident of progress on political reform.
Leung and commerce chief Greg So Kam-leung later called on Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng to discuss fluctuating food prices. Leung said the minister had promised to send a deputy to Hong Kong to supervise efforts to stabilise prices and ensure safety ahead of January's Lunar New Year holiday. So, housing chief Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung and financial services minister Professor Chan Ka-keung are accompanying Leung to meet ministers.
A government source dismissed suggestions the three had been invited because Beijing wished to bypass Leung by sending orders directly to ministers. The source said the idea for the ministers to join him was suggested by Leung as a way for them to build ties in Beijing.
In Hong Kong, Beijing loyalist lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung welcomed Xi's call for pragmatism.
"If we only raise proposals based on our own opinions, I am afraid that it will be difficult to achieve universal suffrage," said Tam, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
But Alan Leong Kah-kit, leader of the pan-democratic Civic Party, said Xi's remarks showed that Beijing had "yet to understand what Hong Kong people want". Leong said: "Hong Kong's governance problems originate from a chief executive who lacks a mandate."
Today Leung and Chan will visit the finance ministry; they and Cheung will meet Wang, then Leung and Cheung will meet the National Development and Reform Commission.