HONG KONG (AP) — Beijing's top official in Hong Kong has rejected letting the public nominate candidates to run for leader, in the strongest sign yet from China that it won't allowed the former British colony to freely choose its next leader.
Zhang Xiaoming said in an open letter that a provision in the city's mini-constitution requires candidates to be chosen by a "broadly representative nominating committee."
"There is no other option," Zhang said in the letter, written in response to a lawmaker's proposal.
Since China regained control of Hong Kong in 1997, the city's leader — known as the chief executive — has been chosen by an elite panel of mainly pro-Beijing tycoons and business group representatives.
Beijing promised in 2007 to allow Hong Kongers to elect their leader in 2017 and all lawmakers by 20202, but no outline has been given, adding to growing anxiety among residents that they'll be denied full democracy.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is facing growing public pressure to hold consultations on electoral reform.
Hong Kong pro-democracy groups have proposed several ways to make the nomination process more democratic, including allowing candidates to run if at least 2 percent the city's 3.4 million registered voters nominate them.
In July, Zhang told Hong Kong lawmakers the central government is serious about eventually allowing all Hong Kongers to vote for the chief executive. But he reiterated Beijing's insistence it would never let residents nominate their own candidates without central government approval.
Zhang said in his letter that the "correct path forward" for election methods is to follow the provisions of the Basic Law — Hong Kong's mini-constitution — and the National People's Congress Standing Committee — the Chinese legislature's governing body — "rather than detouring from the law."
Under the Basic Law, Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, gets to keep its own political system and Western-style civil liberties such as freedom of speech until 2047.
Zhang's letter was dated Aug. 30 and posted Thursday on the website of the Chinese central government's liaison office.
Zhang's letter (in Chinese): bit.ly/189xDjh
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