China rebukes former HK leader over democracy remarks

HONG KONG - China has hit back at remarks made by Hong Kong's last colonial leader in which he described the city's transition to democracy as inevitable, calling them "unwarranted".

Chris Patten, the city's last British governor, said in a recent interview with the Wall Street Journal that anyone who resists the right for Hong Kong citizens to elect their own government is "spitting in the wind".

"The only thing [Hong Kong] doesn't have is the right to elect its own government, and sooner or later it will have," Patten told the newspaper on a visit to Singapore Monday, adding that residents would ultimately want greater control over how their city was run.

Chinese authorities on Wednesday said Patten, who administered Hong Kong for the five years prior to its handover to China in 1997, was not in a position to comment.

"We are firmly opposed to people of foreign countries to make unwarranted remarks or point fingers," a spokesman for the Foreign Affairs Commission in Hong Kong, an arm of the Foreign Ministry in Beijing, said.

"The people of Hong Kong enjoy unprecedented rights and freedoms according to law," he said, adding that the city's political development was an internal matter for the territory and China.

China has promised the former British colony it will see a transition to universal suffrage by 2017, though critics say little or no progress has been made on the prickly issue as the deadline draws closer.

In the interview, Patten also said his biggest regrets from his time as Hong Kong governor were not taking earlier steps to implement democratic reforms under the Sino-British Joint Declaration, in particular regarding elections.

During his administration, Patten introduced political reforms which allowed more people to vote in the territory's legislative body, but these were rolled back when China gained sovereignty.

Recent debate over Hong Kong's electoral reforms has revolved around how candidates will be chosen to stand for the 2017 chief executive election, with concerns Beijing will restrict voters' choices.

The Foreign Ministry in Beijing has made a series of rebukes to foreign officials who have called for greater democracy in the southern Chinese city.

In September, it branded "irresponsible" remarks by British Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire who said democracy is "vital to Hong Kong stability".

It also accused Washington's consul general in Hong Kong, Clifford Hart, of meddling in China's internal affairs after he made similar remarks on looking forward to "progress towards genuine universal suffrage" in August.

Hong Kong returned to Chinese rule in 1997 under an agreement with Britain that grants it semi-autonomous status and enshrines civil liberties not seen in mainland China. But policies in relation to defense and foreign affairs are administered by Beijing.