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China warns U.S. off Hong Kong

By CNN's Marianne Bray

A proposed anti-subversion law sparked mass protests in Hong Kong.
A proposed anti-subversion law sparked mass protests in Hong Kong.

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China warns the U.S. against meddling in Hong Kong affairs, as a democracy leader from the territory prepares to speak in Washington.
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BEIJING, China (CNN) -- China has warned the United States against meddling in Hong Kong affairs as an outspoken democracy leader from the territory meets with top officials in Washington.

Opposition politician Martin Lee met U.S. National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice on Thursday and spoke to a U.S. Senate committee about democracy in the former British colony.

But the trip has irked Beijing, with the foreign ministry saying on its Web site ( that it opposes any attempts to interfere in China's internal affairs.

"China has enough wisdom to deal with the Hong Kong question according to the law and does not need external forces to make irresponsible remarks," Reuters quoted the ministry as saying.

The free-wheeling territory of 6.8 million people was given wide autonomy when it was handed over to China in 1997 under the "one country, two systems" formula.

Under its constitution, the Basic Law, the territory could theoretically enjoy full democracy in 2007, the year when unpopular Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's term expires.

But the constitution also says Beijing has final say over any electoral changes, and many residents are watching to see how China interprets the Basic Law and where it stands on direct elections in 2007.

Around half a million people rallied in July last year, and a smaller number this January, demanding political change in a city where the chief executive is handpicked by an election committee loyal to Beijing and less than half the legislature is directly elected.

But in his annual policy speech in January, Tung skirted growing demands for democratic reform, disappointing activists in the territory who had hoped he would launch public consultations early this year.

Instead, Tung said any consultations on democracy would be with Beijing first, and said he would establish a task force to consult with Chinese leaders.

Lose control

China is set to begin its annual session of parliament on Friday, and Hong Kong is likely to be high on the agenda amid concerns that calls for more democracy in the territory will spill over to the mainland. Beijing is also worried it could lose control over the special administrative region.

Chinese President Hu Jintao's administration has reacted by playing hardball with Hong Kong's pro-democracy activists, casting into doubt Beijing's commitment to reform and straining relations with Taiwan, the United States and the rest of the world. (Beijing jitters)

The protests on July 1 were the biggest ever seen in Hong Kong.
The protests on July 1 were the biggest ever seen in Hong Kong.

Lee, who is in favor of the reunification of Taiwan, has said his trip is not about stirring relations with China.

"Ultimately I believe the new leaders in Beijing will understand that what we are doing is actually good for Hong Kong and Taiwan."

"If Hong Kong does well under 'one country, two systems' then there is hope that there will be a peaceful solution in Taiwan which will lead to reunification.

China has issued blunt reminders to the United States, asking Washington to stop interfering in its internal affairs. Locally, it has stressed that Hong Kong's ruling elite must consist of "patriotic" elements and labeled pro-democracy politicians such as Lee "unpatriotic."

For its part, the United States has been upfront about wanting more democracy in Hong Kong. In January, U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said Washington supported electoral reform and universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

"Our belief is in democracy," Boucher said at the briefing in Washington. "The Hong Kong people and the Hong Kong government need to start addressing this issue."

China's bid to muffle rising calls for voting rights has dented confidence in the territory. Only 43 percent of 1,045 people interviewed in a poll conduced by the University of Hong Kong in February said they trusted Beijing, down from 50 percent at the end of December.

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