Hong Kong Democracy May Lead to Conflict With China, Leung Says

Increased democracy in Hong Kong may lead to China’s refusal to appoint a leader elected by the city’s people, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said.

China occasionally has declined to accept officials chosen by the city, which suggests it reserves the same right over the chief executive position, Leung said yesterday in an interview in New York.

“The possibility exists for Beijing and Hong Kong people not seeing eye-to-eye on the best candidate to lead Hong Kong,” Leung said. “This is another issue we need to tackle under One Country, Two Systems.”

Former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping used this phrase to describe the administration of Hong Kong after the city’s return to China in 1997, with the former British colony retaining its own government under Chinese oversight.

Leung -- the last Hong Kong leader chosen by a committee comprised of the wealthy, lawmakers and professionals -- is tasked with paving the way for universal suffrage in 2017. The city government hasn’t presented a plan yet to achieve this, and some civic groups have proposed occupying Central, Hong Kong’s business district, next year if proposals are delayed or less than fully democratic. Past anti-government demonstrations in Hong Kong have drawn as many as 500,000 people.

Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the law committee of the National People’s Congress, said on March 24 that consultations about political reform in Hong Kong shouldn’t start until everybody agrees that the leader of the city “can’t plot to overthrow the rule of the Chinese Communist Party.”

Vote Concerns

China’s “basic concern is that they do not trust the people of Hong Kong to use the vote in their hands wisely,” Anson Chan, Hong Kong’s former chief secretary, said in April. “That given a vote tomorrow, Hong Kong people will vote for somebody who will oppose the central government.”

Leung, the city’s third selected leader, said yesterday that the “One Country, Two Systems” model under which Hong Kong operates isn’t “natural” and so needs management. Still, democratic elections are “the popular wish.”

“I want to deliver on that; it’s one of the key things on my agenda,” Leung said. “We haven’t decided on the timetable. We will consult with the people. Ultimately it will be by universal suffrage. It’s just a matter of timing.”

Any action based on the stated plans of the so-called Occupy Central movement to accelerate democratic change would be “clearly illegal,” and the government would handle it as it does any illegal activities, Leung said.

Scrapped Plans

Last year, Leung scrapped plans for national education classes after students camped out at the government headquarters for days in opposition. They said the classes would paint a too-favorable picture of Communist Party rule in China.

Leung took office last July pledging to narrow a record wealth gap, address housing affordability and clean up the environment. Since then, his government has raised minimum wages, allocated more spending to welfare and pledged a HK$10 billion ($1.3 billion) subsidy to replace polluting vehicles.

Still, his popularity is close to a record low. Leung’s support rating was 46.7 on a scale of 0 to 100, according to a survey of 1,012 people conducted June 3-5 by the University of Hong Kong’s Public Opinion Program, down from 53.8 when he took office almost a year ago.

Leung also defended his administration’s track record yesterday, pointing to progress in reducing poverty through the increase in the city’s statutory minimum wage and the work of a commission that’s establishing a poverty line for the first time.

Hong Kong’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income inequality, rose to 0.537 in 2011 from 0.525 in 2001, the government said last June. The score, a high for the city since records began in 1971, is above the 0.4 level used by analysts as a gauge of the potential for social unrest.

Poverty “is one of the key” policy areas the government focuses on, Leung said.

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