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Government responds to US Congress' US-China Economic and Security Review Commission - 2007 Report

    In response to media enquiries on the 2007 Annual Report issued by the US Congress' US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a Government spokesman said today (November 16) that the HKSAR Government noted that the report included sections relating to Hong Kong.

     The spokesman said, "We are pleased to note that the report recognises that Hong Kong is favoured by businesses from all parts of the globe as a centre for commerce in Asia, and as a key financial centre for the Asia-Pacific region. This is consistent with the rankings given by renowned international organisations, such as the World Bank, which ranks Hong Kong fourth in terms of ease of doing business, and the World Economic Forum, which ranks Hong Kong first in the area of financial market sophistication.

     "We will continue to enhance Hong Kong's role as a gateway between the Mainland and the international business community, by exploring ways to buttress the overall competitiveness of Hong Kong especially in regard to strengthening our advantages in the rule of law, independent judiciary, law enforcement and transparency," the spokesman said.

     Regarding constitutional development, the spokesman said, "The third-term HKSAR Government is committed to resolving the issue of universal suffrage within its five-year term. That is why the Government published the Green Paper on Constitutional Development to consult the public on the issue of universal suffrage, and to strive to forge consensus within the community."

     The spokesman said that it was clearly stated in the Green Paper that the "universal suffrage system commonly adopted in overseas jurisdictions was a one-person-one-vote system which could take the form of direct or indirect election". Geographical direct elections through "one-person-one-vote" represented a form of universal suffrage. Other forms of "one-person-one-vote" elections, including indirect elections, which met the electoral principles of "universal" and "equal" suffrage, could also be possible models of universal suffrage.

     The spokesman said, "We have been very open in setting out in the Green Paper all key issues, so that the public can discuss and make choices on the different options and timetable for implementing universal suffrage. For example, for forming the Legislative Council by universal suffrage, aside from the option of allowing functional constituencies (FCs) to nominate candidates for registered voters to vote members into office, as proposed by some, the Green Paper has also included the option of replacing FC seats with district-based seats returned through direct elections.

     "It should be noted that the general principle of equality of voting power does not necessarily require precise arithmetic equality in the power of each vote. For example, in the case of Hong Kong, there can be a variation of 15% in the ratio of the number of seats returned through geographical constituencies to the size of population.

     "The public consultation exercise concluded on October 10. We are now assessing according to the views received within the public consultation period whether differences in opinions have narrowed sufficiently to provide a basis for consensus on implementation of universal suffrage to be formed. After summarising the views received, the HKSAR Government will submit a report to the Central Authorities to reflect the views gathered.

     "Constitutional development is part of our internal affairs. The HKSAR will deal with it in accordance with the Basic Law. We hope, and believe, that foreign governments and legislatures will continue to respect this principle," the spokesman said.

     In respect of the 2007 Chief Executive (CE) Election, the spokesman said, "The 2007 CE Election was held in accordance with the Basic Law and the relevant electoral legislation, and in an open, fair and just manner."

     The CE Election has constitutional foundation and legitimacy. It is prescribed in the Basic Law that the CE shall be elected by a broadly representative Election Committee (EC) comprising 800 members. The EC members represent different sectors of the community, including the business, professional, labour, social services, religious and political sectors. The great majority of the EC members are returned through elections.

     Regarding the political appointment system, the spokesman said, "One important objective of expanding the political appointment system by creating two additional layers of political appointees is to pave the way for implementation of universal suffrage for returning the CE. It is hoped that, by then, the candidate who wins can have sufficient room to nominate and appoint his team of Principal Officials and their deputies."

     The Government conducted public consultation in 2006 on the proposals to create two additional layers of political appointees. In overall terms, the public views received indicate general support for the Government's proposals.

     "The Government hopes that we can provide the team of Principal Officials with stronger support in carrying out political work in the pursuit of people-based governance, and in leading an outstanding, permanent and politically neutral civil service to meet the objective of effective governance.

     "As a broader objective, the Government also hopes that the initiative can widen and groom the pool of political talents, to broaden the avenues for those who wish to serve Hong Kong by pursuing a career in politics," the spokesman said.

     On freedom of the press, the spokesman said, "Hong Kong has developed a respect for freedom of speech and of the press. A free press flourishes in Hong Kong. More than 40 daily newspapers and 680 weekly periodicals are published in Hong Kong. Many international news agencies, newspapers and electronic media organisations have major operations here.

     "As before, the media continues to perform its role rigorously in holding the Government accountable. The media reports freely in Hong Kong, commenting extensively and liberally on local and external matters, and on Government policies, programmes and activities," the spokesman said.

     "A free press, with rights and freedoms protected by the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights, is the most effective safeguard against self-censorship. Ultimately, those working in the field must protect the integrity of their profession."

Ends/Friday, November 16, 2007