The constitutional affairs chief refused to be drawn yesterday on the contention by a mainland scholar and 'young guardian of the Basic Law' that Hong Kong had to pass national security laws before it could have universal suffrage.
Wang Zhenmin had merely been giving his opinion as an academic last month when stating six reasons Hong Kong was not ready for universal suffrage, Stephen Lam Sui-lung told the Legislative Council.
Beijing understood the public's demand for democracy, the minister said.
Pro-democracy lawmakers pressed Mr Lam for the government's view on Professor Wang's six conditions, and restated their case for a timetable for introducing universal suffrage.
Democrat Cheung Man-kwong dismissed Professor Wang's remark that there should be proof that universal suffrage would not drive Hong Kong into decline.
'Even God himself cannot make that promise,' Mr Cheung said.
Professor Wang, deputy dean of Tsinghua University's law school, laid out his six conditions at a central-government-sponsored Basic Law seminar in Beijing. One was that Hong Kong had to pass legislation to implement measures to safeguard national security under Article 23 of the Basic Law. The Article 23 bill was shelved in 2003 after half a million people marched to oppose it.
Democrat Yeung Sum said he was concerned to know whether or not the government agreed with Professor Wang that universal suffrage be packaged with Article 23 legislation.
The central government has spoken through legal experts on controversial constitutional issues. But Mr Lam said the government's understanding of the conference was that it was an occasion for academics to exchange views, and Professor Wang had not been speaking in his capacity as a Basic Law Committee member.