China says UN rights covenant no measure for Hong Kong reform

Pro-democracy protester gather at the main protest site in the Admiralty district of Hong Kong.

China rebuffed a UN call for full political rights for Hong Kong on Friday, saying that an international covenant on such rights was not a "measure for reform" in the Chinese-ruled territory.

The UN Human Rights Committee on Thursday said residents in the former British colony, now a "special administrative region" of China with wide-ranging autonomy, should have the right to stand for election as well as the right to vote.

The panel of 18 independent experts, which monitors compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, voiced concern at Beijing's plan to vet candidates for the leader of Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

The covenant, a landmark treaty adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966, was signed by China in 1998 but never ratified, though it applies to Hong Kong. The pact guarantees fundamental freedoms including the right to self-determination and free and regular elections.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying acknowledged that the covenant applied to Hong Kong, but said the treaty had no weight in China, adding that China's decision on Hong Kong elections had "unshakable legal status and effect".

"The covenant is not a measure for Hong Kong's political reform," she added, without elaborating.

It was not immediately clear how, if the covenant applied to Hong Kong, it could have no bearing on its political reform.

Thousands have taken to the streets of Hong Kong in protest against central government plans to allow only Beijing loyalists to stand in 2017 elections. Talks between student leaders and senior officials on Tuesday failed to break a deadlock.

Since the protests began, China has consistently decried what it calls outside interference in Hong Kong, saying that as a part of China its politics are a purely internal matter.