Washington and Beijing have crossed swords again over political reform in Hong Kong after a Communist Party mouthpiece accused the United States of taking advantage of the issue to push for the city's independence.
Without directly commenting on the accusations, a spokesman for the US State Department said yesterday it supported democracy for Hong Kong in accordance with the Basic Law and the aspirations of Hongkongers.
The exchange came as the turnout in Occupy Central's unofficial referendum on how the next chief executive should be elected in 2017 grew to 744,219 last night. The 10-day poll closes on Sunday.
An opinion piece in the state-run Global Times yesterday said the US had given its support to the city's separatist forces.
"Hong Kong is going to implement universal suffrage in 2017. The US is trying to take advantage of this chance to push for the forces of Hong Kong separatism and to bring China trouble," the article said.
"Even if the US plan to push for independence fails, it could still affect China if chaos hits Hong Kong."
The article further suggested that the US had been sending large amounts of intelligence as a way to meddle in the city's political affairs.
Global Times sparked a public outcry with a strongly worded editorial earlier this week that described the turnout for Occupy Central's poll as "no match" for China's total population of 1.3 billion.
In contrast, when asked about the poll, the US State Department spokesman said the country supported Hong Kong's internationally recognised fundamental freedoms - including freedom of expression - which were protected by the Basic Law.
Offering Hongkongers a genuine choice of candidates representative of the voters' will and the implementation of universal suffrage would greatly enhance the chief executive's legitimacy, the spokesman added.
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying expressed rare disagreement with the Global Times editorial on Tuesday, saying it was wrong to put "the people of Hong Kong and China on confronting sides".
Global Times did not directly respond to Leung's remarks in an article yesterday that touched on the plebiscite but quoted media reports saying he was believed to be trying to "cool down" the referendum's momentum.