Little more than a week after lambasting Beijing for impeding Hong Kong's progress to full democracy, the US appeared yesterday to give a guarded endorsement on arrangements for electing the next chief executive. US State Department deputy spokesman Adam Ereli said the Election Committee process involved 'definitely a degree of enfranchisement' and gave Hong Kong people a role in the process. His comments at a Washington press briefing left analysts puzzled over whether it represented a softening US stance. The State Department's annual human rights report released nearly two weeks ago said Beijing's blocking of full democracy in 2007 and 2008 raised questions about its willingness to allow Hong Kong its autonomy as was promised in the Basic Law. At the briefing, Mr Ereli said choosing a successor to Tung Chee-hwa was 'for the people of Hong Kong and China to decide' and the new chief would be 'a representative of the people of Hong Kong and China'. Challenged by someone who said Hong Kong people had no voice in the matter, Mr Ereli replied: 'Well, I would say they're going to ... there will be Hong Kong institutions that play a role in the selection.' To a suggestion that members of these institutions were chosen by Beijing, he replied: 'Not entirely.' Lingnan University political analyst Li Pang-kwong said it seemed strange that the US seemed to have withdrawn harsh comments on Beijing's refusal to give Hong Kong full democracy. 'The tone is less strong and the stance is different from previous statements. But we can't just conclude that the US has changed its stance from the words of one spokesman,' Professor Li said. 'It's also too soon for them to make any strategic changes because things are still evolving.' In Hong Kong, the US consulate said yesterday that Washington 'strongly supports the aspirations of Hong Kong people for democracy' and universal suffrage. The consulate and Mr Ereli said the US worked constructively with Mr Tung during his tenure.