The UK has called upon the Hong Kong government and lawmakers to restart talks on constitutional reform one month after legislators voted down a controversial political reform package on electing the city’s leader.
The comments were made in the UK government’s six-monthly report on Hong Kong, which looks at developments that have taken place since the former British colony returned to China in 1997.
UK Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said that whilst the “One Country, Two Systems” model has worked well overall, he acknowledged that there were areas of contention not just with political reform but also academic freedom, press freedom and LGBT rights.
In the report’s foreword, Hammond said: “I continue to believe that a transition to universal suffrage is the best way to guarantee Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity, and that continued momentum towards that goal is essential.”
He then referred to comments made by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying after the political reform vote, in which he told journalists “we need move on” and pledged to shift the government’s focus towards economic and livelihood issues.
The report said: “While there is an understandable desire in some quarters to refocus the political agenda away from constitutional reform to livelihood issues, it is improved governance which will help those issues to be addressed effectively in the longer term. Constitutional reform will support, rather than detract from, efforts to improve Hong Kong people’s livelihoods. In order to restart the process of constitutional reform, all sides will have to make efforts to rebuild trust and heal divisions.”
Last month legislators voted down the government’s proposals for selecting Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2017. The plan would have allowed voters to directly elect their leader albeit from a pool of candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing nominating committee.
The proposals failed to pass the city’s legislative council after lawmakers from the pro-establishment side attempted to stage a walkout in a last-ditch attempt to make the vote inquorate. However, a communications error meant not everyone in the pro-establishment camp received the memo to walk out of the Legislative Council chamber, meaning there were just enough members in the chamber for the vote to be valid.
The report said: “Following LegCo’s veto of proposals, we now believe it is imperative for all sides to re-establish communication and rebuild mutual trust to allow the constitutional reform process to be restarted. This is crucial for the effective functioning of, and confidence in, ‘One Country Two Systems’.”
The report later goes on to say: “We remain concerned that the strains between the executive and legislature evident in this and previous reporting periods risk damaging Hong Kong’s traditionally strong governance.”
Press freedom, academic freedom and LGBT rights
The report expressed concerns over academic and press freedom in the territory, saying that they are “important for Hong Kong’s continued stability and prosperity, and for public confidence in ‘One Country, Two Systems’.”
On press freedom, the report called on the Leung administration to “take an active and leading role in its promotion and protection,” and on academic freedom they expressed concerns over the “perceived politicisation of appointments.”
The news comes after the Hong Kong Journalists Association published a report on the pressures faced by journalists in Hong Kong and amid the ongoing scandal and following the ongoing
The report also called on the Hong Kong government to to take “proactive steps” in tackling LGBT discrimination as Hong Kong has not outlawed discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.