EU presses for Hong Kong electoral reform after ‘politically challenging’ 2016

Call contradicts earlier opinion of legal chief at Beijing’s liaison office

Kimmy ChungUPDATED : Thursday, 27 Apr 2017, 1:47PM

The EU has urged Hong Kong to kick-start electoral reform, saying that would give the government greater legitimacy to tackle the city’s social and economic challenges.

That call was at odds with the opinion of Wang Zhenmin, the legal chief for the central government’s liaison office, who last Saturday rejected the need for development of democracy in Hong Kong over the next decade.

The European Commission’s 19th report on Hong Kong, released on Thursday, read: “The EU encourages the Hong Kong SAR and China’s central government to resume electoral reform in line with the Basic Law and to reach agreement on an election system that is democratic, fair, open and transparent.”

Wang Zhenmin from the central government’s liaison office. Photo: Sam Tsang

Wang Zhenmin from the central government’s liaison office. Photo: Sam Tsang

It added that universal suffrage would give the government greater public support and legitimacy in pursuing economic development and tackling social challenges such as socio-economic and generational divides.

The commission also said that the record turnouts in the Legislative Council and Election Committee elections had shown that people were eager to play an active role in political life and in deciding the future of Hong Kong.

But speaking at an academic conference on Hong Kong affairs held in Beijing on Saturday, the liaison office’s Wang, a former Tsinghua University law dean, said: “Political reform has failed after so many years.

“[Hong Kong] cannot afford to dedicate energy to political reform in the next five or 10 years, instead of housing, people’s livelihoods and the economy.”

The annual report is released in line with a commitment given to the European Parliament in 1997.

This year’s report described 2016 as a “politically challenging” year for Hong Kong and the function of the “one country, two systems” principle, with the emergence of political groups advocating self-determination and independence; the Mong Kok riot; the disqualification of two pro-independence lawmakers; and the interpretation of Basic Law Article 104 by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee.

The report noted that parts of Hong Kong society were concerned about a gradual erosion of the city’s promised high degree of autonomy, with negative trends in press freedom in reporting on domestic and foreign policy developments of China.

But the report concluded that, overall, the “one country, two systems” principle continued to work well in 2016, as the rule of law remained the guiding principle for the government and society at large, along with freedom of speech and freedom of information generally being upheld.

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