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Occupy Central

White House calls for ‘genuine choice’ in Hong Kong elections after petition attracts 200,000 signatures

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2014, 12:23pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 October, 2014, 8:03pm

The White House has responded to a petition on its website which attracted around 200,000 signatures, calling upon it to “press the Chinese government to honour its promise of democratic elections to the Hong Kong citizenry.”

“We are watching the situation in Hong Kong closely,” the White House said in its statement. “Around the world the United States supports internationally recognised fundamental freedoms, such as freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of expression. We urge the Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint, and for protesters to express their views peacefully.”

The statement reiterates US support for universal suffrage in Hong Kong “in accordance with the Basic Law.”

“We believe that an open society, with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law, is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity – indeed this is what has made Hong Kong such a successful and truly global city. We have consistently made our position known to Beijing, and we will continue to do so,” it continues.

Any petition on the White House website getting more than 100,000 signatures within 30 days would receive an official response from the Obama administration.

Though the statement does not specifically mention the nominating committee for candidates for the chief executive election, which is a main sticking point with pro-democracy protesters, it states that the “legitimacy of the Chief Executive will be greatly enhanced … if the election provides the people of Hong Kong a genuine choice of candidates representative of the voters’ will.”

Beijing’s framework for Hong Kong’s 2017 elections, adopted by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee on August 31, states that two or three candidates may run for the Chief Executive job, and each must be endorsed by more than half of the 1,200 nominating committee members.

Washington previously called on Hong Kong’s leaders to show restraint after police fired tear gas at protesters on Sunday night.

“The United States urges the Hong Kong authorities to exercise restraint and for protesters to express their views peacefully,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest told reporters.

The US consulate warned its citizens in the city to be cautious if visiting protest areas. “Even demonstrations intended to be peaceful can turn confrontational,” it said. “You should exercise caution if in the vicinity of any large gatherings.”

The South China Morning Post reported on Tuesday that the Chinese Foreign Ministry sent a letter to all consulates-general in the city requesting that they urge their citizens to stay away from Occupy Central “so as to avoid violating the law and affecting their own safety and interests.”

Maryland resident Daniel Yukuan Gong, who submitted the petition to the White House on September 4th on behalf of DC-based rights group Initiatives for China, told the Post that its success was down to the work of 33 global organisations.

Groups involved ran the gamut of greater Chinese politics, including Chinese human rights groups, Hong Kong pro-democracy organisations, Taiwanese NGOs, and ethnic minority and religious groups.

“The groups are the biggest coalition so far in support of Hong Kong’s fight for democracy,” Gong said.