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Response to UK report on Hong Kong

     In response to media enquiries, a Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau spokesman today (September 10) said the following in relation to comments in the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office's Six-monthly Report on Hong Kong (January to June 2008) relating to Hong Kong's constitutional development, press freedom and race discrimination:

     Regarding constitutional development, the spokesman said that the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (NPCSC) made the decision in December 2007 to make clear the timetable for attaining universal suffrage.

     "According to the decision, the Chief Executive (CE) may be elected by universal suffrage in 2017 and all members of the Legislative Council (Legco) may be elected by universal suffrage in 2020. This carries most important significance for Hong Kong's constitutional development."

     Following NPCSC's decision, an implementation roadmap has been outlined to complement the universal suffrage timetable.

     "Between 2008 and 2012, we should endeavour to roll forward Hong Kong's electoral methods to a mid-way point. On this front, the CE set up a task group on constitutional development under the Commission on Strategic Development to consider the two electoral methods for 2012. The task group concluded discussions in late June," the spokesman said.

     He said that the HKSAR Government would decide, in the fourth quarter of 2008, when to consult the public on the CE and Legco electoral methods for 2012.

     "The public consultation will be undertaken as soon as possible. Our aim is to determine the two electoral methods for 2012 within the tenure of the third-term HKSAR Government. This would lay a solid foundation for attaining universal suffrage for the CE in 2017, and for the Legco in 2020.

     "Between 2012 and 2017, the fourth-term HKSAR Government and the fifth-term Legco should address together the method for implementing universal suffrage for the CE."

     The spokesman added that the CE taking office in 2017 would have to work with the Legco and come up with proposals to attain universal suffrage for the Legco in 2020.

     "This CE, returned by universal suffrage, will have broad public support to lead the Hong Kong community to resolve this issue.

     "Now that the universal suffrage timetable has been set, we believe that, in the years to come this will motivate different political parties and independent members in the Legco, as well as different sectors within the community, to work together with the HKSAR Government towards securing consensus for implementing universal suffrage for the CE in 2017 and for Legco in 2020," the spokesman said.

     On freedom of the press, the spokesman said that the HKSAR Government was firmly committed to protecting the freedom of speech and of the press, and maintaining an environment in which a free and active press could operate under minimum regulation.

     "Freedom of expression and freedom of the press are fundamental rights enjoyed by people in the HKSAR. These rights are enshrined in Article 27 of the Basic Law.

     "Free press flourishes in Hong Kong. The media rigorously performs its role in monitoring the work of the Government. It reports freely in Hong Kong, commenting extensively and liberally on local and external matters, and on Government policies, programmes and activities.

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

     As regards racial discrimination, the spokesman said, "In resuming second reading debate on the Race Discrimination Bill, we proposed a number of amendments (including provisions regarding the application to the Government and the definition of race discrimination) to address the views received from Legco Members and other parties.

     "The Race Discrimination Ordinance, as amended, was passed unanimously by Legco on July 10, 2008. We are making preparations for its implementation."

     The spokesman said the HKSAR Government was taking steps to strengthen support to ethnic minorities in Hong Kong, including the establishment of four regional support service centres to provide interpretation services and to organise activities to facilitate their integration into the community.

Ends/Wednesday, September 10, 2008