Taiwan leader says he backs democracy for Hong Kong

TAIPEI - Taiwan's President Ma Ying-jeou, who initiated detente with China, on Tuesday threw his support behind Hong Kong's push for democracy -- calling it a core value shared by Taiwanese people.

His support comes after pro-democracy activists in Hong Kong vowed a new "era of civil disobedience" in front of thousands of supporters at a Sunday rally after Beijing crushed hopes for full democracy.

"Democracy and rule of law is also the core value of people in Taiwan and the long-term goal of our pursuit," Ma, also chairman of the ruling Kuomintang party, said during a party meeting.

"While keeping our concerns about the development in Hong Kong, we'd also like to voice our support for the pursuit of democracy and rule of law by the people in Hong Kong."

Ma called on Chinese and Hong Kong authorities to hold dialogues with pro-democracy advocates and respect the will of the majority of the people in the former British colony.

"Only this way could Hong Kong's social unrest be eased and long term and stable support from the people of Hong Kong be secured," Ma said.

The standing committee of China's National People's Congress on Sunday said Hong Kong citizens will be allowed to elect their next leader in 2017.

But candidates must be chosen by a pro-Beijing committee and must win the backing of more than half of the committee members to stand.

The Chinese decision to grant only limited suffrage prompted democracy activists to vow an "era of civil disobedience" including mass sit-ins at the international trading hub's financial district.

However the activists tacitly admitted defeat Tuesday, saying they were powerless to change China's plan.

Taiwan's leading opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) also voiced "regret" at the Chinese decision.

Taiwan has been closely tracking the democracy movement in Hong Kong as many consider it a barometer to measure China's commitment to "one country, two systems" -- its standing offer to Taiwan in the event of reunification with the mainland.

Under the system which guarantees that city a semi-autonomous status, Hong Kong has enjoyed a level of civil liberties that is unavailable in China since its handover to China in 1997.

China still considers Taiwan part of its territory awaiting reunification -- by force if necessary -- even though the island has ruled itself for more than six decades since their split in 1949 after a civil war.