United States implores authorities in Hong Kong to “exercise restraint”

(White House Image press secretary Josh Earnest)

The White House on Monday implored authorities in Hong Kong to “exercise restraint” amid mass pro-democracy protests following Beijing’s decision to restrict reforms in the territory.

The Occupy Central movement lead by students on 28 September, Sunday was in protest against the “fake democracy” by the China government on Hong Kong, as the mainland refused to allow a full slate of candidates in the 2017 vote for Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, the city’s top government official.

The peaceful protests on Sunday met with chaos after Hong Kong police force tried to disperse the crowd, using tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters.

The position of Chief Executive is currently chosen by a 1,200-member committee dominated by Beijing loyalists. On August 31, Beijing’s National Peoples’ Committee decided it would allow elections for the post in 2017 but only two or three candidates who are vetted by a pro-Beijing nomination committee will be allowed to stand for elections.

Various unions and professional groups have called for strikes to protest against the violence used by the Hong Kong police force and to demand for universal suffrage.

Banks and other businesses across Hong Kong were forced to close due to the blocked traffic by protesters and strikes by Hong Kong workers. The Ministry of Education of Hong Kong declared a school holiday on Monday in view of calls for strikes by teacher unions, such as the Hong Kong Professional Teachers’ Union, in response to the unwarranted violence by the police.

“The United States supports universal suffrage in Hong Kong in accordance with the basic law, and we support the aspirations of the Hong Kong people,” press secretary Josh Earnest said.

“We believe that an open society with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law is essential for Hong Kong’s stability and prosperity.”

Earnest said the U.S. hoped that protesters “express their views peacefully” but that the administration “believe that the basic legitimacy of the chief executive in Hong Kong will be greatly enhanced” by a “genuine choice of candidates that are representative of the peoples’ and the voters’ will.”

A spokeswoman for China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs warned on Monday that foreign countries should be “cautious” about weighing in on the protests.

“Hong Kong belongs to China. Hong Kong affairs are purely China’s domestic affairs,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying, according to the Los Angeles Times. “We strongly oppose any countries interfering or supporting Occupy Central by any methods. We wish these countries to be cautious.”

But Earnest said he was not concerned about weighing in.

“We’ve been very clear about what our principles and what our priorities are. They certainly apply to this situation in particular,” Earnest said.

“And, you know, we have been very consistent in voicing our support to the People’s Republic of China for universal suffrage and for the aspirations of the Hong Kong people, and we’re going to continue to do so.”

President Obama is expected to travel to Beijing in November, but the White House wouldn’t say if Obama planned to raise the issue during talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“I do feel confident, however, in saying that the President will certainly raise that the protection of basic universal human rights is critically important,” Earnest said. “That’s something that the President has done in every interaction that he’s had with the Chinese leadership.

“I’m confident that that will be part of the conversation that he is looking forward to having in November,” he added.

(Extracts from The Hill, additional reporting by Terry Xu)