WASHINGTON: The US and China openly clashed over the pro-democracy protests sweeping Hong Kong, with Beijing warning Washington to back off and saying it would not tolerate “illegal acts.”
President Barack Obama told visiting Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi that the United States “was following developments in Hong Kong closely” when he dropped in on a meeting between Wang and national security advisor Susan Rice, the White House said.
Obama also “expressed their hope that differences between Hong Kong authorities and protestors will be addressed peacefully.”
But only hours earlier, Wang upbraided his US counterpart John Kerry, telling him the demonstrations were none of America’s business.
“The Chinese government has very firmly and clearly stated its position. Hong Kong affairs are China’s internal affairs,” Wang said, with Kerry standing next to him at the State Department.
“All countries should respect China’s sovereignty and this is a basic principle of governing international relations,” Wang said.
“I believe for any country, for any society, no one would allow those illegal acts that violate public order. That’s the situation in the United States and that’s the same situation in Hong Kong.”
Washington has always walked a delicate tightrope in its relations with China, eager to improve trade and economic ties with the world’s second largest economy while also pressing for greater human rights.
Amid a tense standoff on the streets of Hong Kong, a Chinese territory, Kerry renewed US calls for restraint by the city’s police.
“As China knows, we support universal suffrage in Hong Kong, accordant with the Basic Law,” Kerry told reporters, standing alongside Wang.
The Basic Law is the mini-constitution of Hong Kong, where Beijing is grappling with one of the biggest challenges to its rule of the semi-autonomous territory.
“We believe an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by rule of law is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity,” Kerry added.
“And we have high hopes that the Hong Kong authorities will exercise restraint and respect the protestors’ right to express their views peacefully.”
The Hong Kong demonstrations were triggered after the Chinese government restricted who can run as the commercial hub’s next chief executive, or leader.
Protestors have been angered by the central government’s refusal to allow free elections for the city’s next leader in 2017, insisting that only two or three candidates vetted by a pro-Beijing committee will be permitted to stand.
Wang threw Beijing’s support behind the Hong Kong authorities, saying they had the “capability to properly handle the current situation in accordance with the law.”
In an unusual move, US officials revealed Wang and Kerry, who also have weighty regional and global issues on their agenda, were to meet for a second time at the State Department later Wednesday at the request of the Chinese delegation.
Part of Wang’s visit has been devoted to preparing Obama’s visit to Beijing November 10-12, as well as discussing issues such as North Korea’s nuclear program and the fight against Islamic militants.
“Rice emphasized that this visit is an opportunity for in-depth discussions about the future potential of the US-China relationship,” the White House said.
State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki reaffirmed the US position on the protests, calling for dialogue to end the standoff.
Washington wants the Hong Kong people “to have a broad choice of candidates” to be next leader.
“We believe human rights and the freedom of expression is something that’s important — not just in China, but countries around the world,” she said.