China’s firm stand leaves the Hong Kong government with “no room for compromise” on a proposal that requires a committee of insiders to vet candidates for the city’s first leadership election, a visiting U.S. lawmaker said.
U.S. Representative Matt Salmon, who led a fact-finding delegation to Hong Kong this week, said changes to the election bill submitted by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying last month are unlikely. The proposal would require candidates to secure majority support from a China-controlled nominating panel before a popular vote in 2017, a condition that sparked last year’s pro-democracy protests.
“It was clear to me that there was no room for any negotiating, that the negotiating has already been done and that going forward it’s kind of take it or leave it,” Salmon, an Arizona Republican who heads the U.S. House subcommittee for Asia and the Pacific, told reporters Saturday.
The U.S. delegation arrived as Leung was working to sway at least four democrats to vote for the proposal and give it the two-thirds support it needs to pass the city’s Legislative Council. The vote -- expected before the legislative session ends in July -- would be a watershed event in Hong Kong’s most turbulent period since the U.K. returned it to Chinese rule in 1997.
The delegation included Representative Alan Lowenthal, a California Democrat, and Representative Tom Emmer, a Minnesota Republican, and started with a visit to Vietnam. The lawmakers met with Leung and members of the city’s pro-establishment and democratic camps.
Salmon, who learned Mandarin as a Mormon missionary in Taiwan, said he has been to China 45 times. He has been involved in Hong Kong issues since the handover in 1997 and was part of a delegation in 2000 that helped negotiate the release of jailed Chinese historian Song Yongyi.
The congressman said he took no position on either the China-backed election proposal or a bill pending before his subcommittee calling for a free and fair nomination and election of the city’s next chief executive.
“The pan-dems probably would hope that we’d be a lot more forceful in pressuring Beijing,” he said. “A lot of people are concerned that if we do stick our nose in and start telling people how to do business it will go the other way just out of spite.”