HK lacks maturity for direct elections, state officials rule

'No proper understanding of one country, two systems principle and Basic Law'

Hong Kong's political situation was not mature enough for the introduction of universal suffrage, leading state officials said yesterday.

They also said the interests of the business sector must always be protected by the political system, as Hong Kong is a capitalist city.

Briefing around 1,000 business, social and professional leaders and foreign envoys, Qiao Xiaoyang, deputy secretary-general of the National People's Congress Standing Committee, said the decision to ban the introduction of universal suffrage by 2007 was a responsible move.

'Those who dare to say that there cannot be universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008 due to Hong Kong's actual situation and long-term interest, are truly courageous and willing to bear responsibility. They truly care for Hong Kong and its people,' he said, attracting an extended round of applause.

Admitting there was strong demand for universal suffrage, Mr Qiao said that while public opinion was considered, it was not the 'only standard' for making a decision.

'A government which is totally dragged by the nose by opinion polls is not a responsible government,' he said.

Departing from his previously mild stance towards Beijing's critics, Mr Qiao launched a strong attack against pro-democracy legal experts, saying their 'radical actions' were Beijing's 'biggest worries'.

Mr Qiao listed six reasons to support the NPC's judgment that the situation in Hong Kong did not warrant universal suffrage.

Chief among these reasons was the accusation that the Hong Kong public lacked a proper understanding of the 'one country, two systems' principle and of the Basic Law.

'There was not a day in the six years of its implementation that it has not been doubted, twisted or even abused.

'In a society where even the constitutional law has not been duly respected, we can expect negative results if radical changes are made in the political system.'

He said the functional constituencies in the legislature and business seats on the Election Committee to select the chief executive would protect business interests, and scrapping them would breach the Basic Law's requirement of balanced participation and retaining the capitalist system.

'We can say that without the business sector there would not be capitalism in Hong Kong. Without protecting the balanced participation of the business sector, the original capitalist system in Hong Kong cannot be ensured,' he said. 'Universal suffrage is not a free lunch - everybody will have to pay for it sooner or later.'

Mr Qiao said the NPC's decision was constitutional and that Hong Kong at present enjoyed unprecedented democracy.

He said future changes should be gradual and should not deviate from the Basic Law's principles.

'I said the [NPC's previous Basic Law] interpretation was like building a bridge for constitutional development in Hong Kong.

'We could say the decision this time is setting a signpost for Hong Kong's constitutional development.'