U.S. congressmen decry China's failing promise for HK democracy

Two U.S. congressmen expressed concern Friday over the lack of freedom and democracy that Hong Kong was to have been entitled to enjoy after China's takeover of the British colony after they met with a pair of local pro-democracy icons, an advocacy group said.

Hong Kong 2020, a political advocacy group established by the Hong Kong government's former No. 2 Anson Chan, said Chan and Martin Lee, founder of the Democratic Party, met in the United States on Thursday with Nancy Pelosi, minority leader of the House of Representatives, and members of the Congressional-Executive Commission on China to talk about the territory's political affairs.

"The future of freedom and democracy in Hong Kong is under serious threat," Commission Chairman Sen. Sherrod Brown said in a statement. "China promised to let the people of Hong Kong freely elect their leaders and enjoy the freedoms of speech, press, and religion. China is backtracking on these promises."

He said China is trying to dictate who can run in the upcoming leadership race, "raising serious doubts about whether the elections will be free and fair." He also said reports of violence and harassment against journalists showed a deteriorating environment for press freedom.

"Beijing's attempt to stack the deck against democracy is disappointing, but not surprising to those who have watched China continually backpedal on its promises to the people of Hong Kong," Commission co-chair Rep. Christopher Smith said in a separate statement.

"This trend is a chilling reminder that Beijing seeks to control both the media and the political process in Hong Kong. These actions raise critical questions whether the 'one country, two systems' model can ever fully guarantee human rights and democracy for the people of Hong Kong," Smith said.

Chan and Lee will also meet with Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns and testify in an open hearing of the commission scheduled Friday, the group said.

Beijing's core legislative body, the standing committee of the National People's Congress that has the final say over Hong Kong's political reforms, has decided Hong Kong can have universal suffrage as early as 2017 that would allow one-person, one-vote in electing the next leader after an elite Nominating Committee decides on the candidates.

The Hong Kong government is consulting the public over the upcoming leadership election and legislative election process, but incumbent Chief Secretary for Administration Carrie Lam, who heads a three-member panel spearheading the consultation, has said all views are welcome as long as they are politically feasible.

"We are duty-bound to give reminders, based on legal and political grounds, when we see proposals that would circumvent or weaken the function of the Nominating Committee," Lam told reporters Friday during an event promoting the Basic Law, Hong Kong's mini-constitution in effect since the handover in 1997.

"If a proposal is unlikely to fulfill requirements stipulated in the Basic Law, it is unlikely to meet the legal consideration," she said.

Beijing officials and loyalists have also stated that only candidates who "love China and love Hong Kong" and will "not confront the central government" are qualified to be nominated, a condition the pro-democracy camp said is meant to eliminate people not favored by Beijing.

Different proposals have been raised, including a controversial three-track scheme that endorses nominations by the people, political parties and the Nominating Committee members that was much criticized by the pro-Beijing camp who claimed it weakens the power of the Beijing-controlled Nominating Committee.

The first-phase government consultation will end May 3 and results will be submitted for Beijing's vetting before the launch of the second-phase consultation.