24 March 2019
Daniel Russel, US Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, says an inclusive electoral process will bolster the legitimacy of Hong Kong's top leader.
Daniel Russel, US Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, says an inclusive electoral process will bolster the legitimacy of Hong Kong's top leader.

‘Inclusive process’: Recipe for HK electoral reform

Hong Kong’s chief executive should be elected through an inclusive political process to ensure more authority and legitimacy for the city’s top leader, a senior United States official said on Tuesday.

“We hope that the promise of the Basic law [on universal suffrage] will be fulfilled,” Daniel Russel, US Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, said in a media briefing after a meeting with Hong Kong’s Chief Secretary Carrie Lam.

“I shared my view [with Lam] and I think it’s a common-sense view that the effectiveness and legitimacy of the future chief executive would certainly be enhanced by an inclusive political process,” Russel said in Hong Kong.

His view came after a recent discussion between Hong Kong’s democrats and Beijing officials on whether Hong Kong should adopt a popular nomination system for its Chief Executive election. Beijing officials said all candidates should be selected by a nomination committee, instead of a popular nomination system, which is supported by the democrats.

Russel told reporters Tuesday that the US does not have a vote in Hong Kong’s political reform, which should be a decision made by Hong Kong people, the city’s government and the central government in Beijing. However, the US would like to know how the universal suffrage will be attained, he said.

“The goal of the US is to promote the prosperity, stability, democratic development and rule of law in Hong Kong. These are very much in the best interests of the US,” he said, adding that Washington fully supports the ‘one country two systems’ framework with its guarantee of high degree of autonomy.

Prior to his appointment as Assistant Secretary last July, Russel served at the White House as Special Assistant to the President and National Security Council Senior Director for Asian Affairs. He had earlier been the US Consul General in Osaka-Kobe in Japan between 2005 and 2008 and Political Section Unit Chief at the US Embassy Seoul in South Korea between 1992 and 1996.

Over the past year, the diplomat has visited Beijing four times. But this was his first visit to Hong Kong since his appointment as Assistant Secretary. Apart from Lam, Russel also met Legco president Jasper Tsang, members from the American Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong and some major local and foreign media.

He said one of the purposes of his Hong Kong visit is to have a better understanding of local people’s view on political issues. He hopes such dialogues will continue.

On April 5, US Vice President Joe Biden met former Hong Kong chief secretary Anson Chan and former law maker Martin Lee at the White House, underscoring Washington’s “long-standing support for democracy in Hong Kong.”

On April 24, China’s Vice President Li Yuanchao met Hong Kong media in Beijing to voice the country’s view on the matter. Li said Beijing opposes the Occupy Central protest movement in Hong Kong, saying it will hurt the city’s business environment. He said there are suspicions that the protest movement is being supported by some foreign powers.

‘Occupy Central’

Asked by media whether he supports the Occupy Central movement, Russel stressed more than once that the US has no involvement in it.

“We have no connection with any political parties or the Occupy Central movement here in Hong Kong,” he said.

“But as a universal principle, the US supports freedom of speech and assembly,” he said. “Having worked at the White House for a couple of years, I’m very familiar with demonstrations. In US, demonstration is a part of the way of life but we certainly believe that demonstration should be conducted in a responsible, peaceful and legal way.” 

Russel also said Hong Kong should maintain the tradition of having freedom of press and rule of law as these are key elements of the city’s success.

He said he is aware of some recent physical attacks against reporters in Hong Kong but particular details about the cases remain missing. The US is concerned about any violence against journalists, he said, adding that he hopes authorities will apprehend and punish anyone committing such acts. 

Former Ming Pao Daily chief editor Kevin Lau Chun-to was attacked in Sai Wan Ho in the eastern part of Hong Kong Island on Feb. 26. He sustained six stab wounds and was taken to a hospital in critical condition. The public was stunned by the attack, which took place after Lau was removed as Ming Pao’s chief editor in January.

Hong Kong police said on March 13 that nine people had been arrested in connection with the brutal attack on Lau. Two men, said to be the actual assailants, have been arrested by mainland authorities in Dongguan.

Back to Asia Pacific

Russel said his visit to Hong Kong is also aimed at providing Hong Kong people an understanding of the US strategy in the region. 

Since 2009, President Barack Obama has been promoting a recovery for the US economy and building a solid economic future for the American people, as well as its partners in the Asia Pacific region, Russel said.

As a major financial center and logistics hub, Hong Kong has a role to play in this “back to Asia Pacific” strategy, which aims to boost business and economic growth between the US and the region, he said. 

Strengthened defense alliance with Japan, South Korea and the Philippines is aimed at ensuring regional stability and a good business environment, he said. The US’ regional strategy is in no conflict with the nation’s determination to build a cooperative partnership with China, he said. 

The Sino-US relationship is not a zero-sum game, Russel said, adding that the relationship is important to both countries as well as to the Asia Pacific region and the global community as a whole.  

– Contact the reporter at [email protected]


Chief reporter at EJ Insight

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