Feb. 26 (Bloomberg) -- China has shifted a meeting of Asian finance ministers set for September to Beijing from Hong Kong, saying the move would improve planning for a leaders summit later this year.
The change of location is to facilitate logistics arrangements and ensure coordination for the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the Hong Kong government said in a statement yesterday.
Beijing’s change of mind comes just five months after agreeing to let Hong Kong, the nation’s financial center, run the event. The city is locked in a debate over reforms needed to bring in universal suffrage in 2017, with a group known as Occupy Central pledging protests this year if the electoral changes fail to meet its expectations.
“I don’t think there’s any other way to read it than a political reaction” to the threat of protests, said Michael Degolyer, a political scientist at the Hong Kong Baptist University. The APEC meeting “would be a juicy target.”
Hong Kong started a five-month public consultation on democratic reforms in December, as preparation for residents to vote for the city’s chief executive in 2017. Incumbent Leung Chun-ying is expected to be the last leader picked by a committee of billionaires, professionals and lawmakers.
China has said candidates for the top job must be vetted by a committee before the public votes. Opposition lawmakers have demanded an open nomination process and that the reforms be in line with international standards.
Occupy Central organizers have said China shouldn’t vet candidates for Hong Kong’s next leader and vowed to take protests to the city’s business district if it isn’t satisfied with the plans. That’s prompted warnings from tycoons including Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man, that demonstrations may damage the economy and Hong Kong’s reputation as a financial center.
The location change “sends a message to the business community that they can either line up behind the government and try to move public opinion in that direction or they need to be more forthcoming in terms of trying to negotiate,” Degolyer said.
The finance ministers’ meeting will be postponed until some time after late September, from September 10 to 12, the Hong Kong government said in the statement. The leaders summit is scheduled for November in Beijing, according to APEC’s website.
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