[BEIJING] Hong Kong's residents shouldn't fear that China is tightening its grip on the former British colony, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said, adding that the government is committed to granting the city a high degree of autonomy.
Mr Li made the remarks as the Hong Kong legislature considers adopting a plan granting the government in Beijing the ability to control the city's first election of its chief executive. The proposal triggered pro-democracy demonstrations that choked central Hong Kong last year.
"Some people are worried that the central government is tightening its policy toward Hong Kong," Mr Li said at a briefing after the end of the Chinese legislature's annual session in Beijing. "I believe that such a worry is not necessary." Pro-democracy demonstrators occupied streets in key parts of the city for nearly three months last year, demanding China rescind its plan to vet candidates for the chief executive election. The protests ended without the governments in Hong Kong or Beijing making any concessions to the demonstrators, and Hong Kong's legislature is due to vote on the election plan in the coming weeks.
Pro-democracy lawmakers have pledged to veto the Beijing proposal and the government of Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying may be short a handful of votes to get the measure passed. If the plan isn't accepted, the chief executive will continue to be chosen by a committee of 1,200 of city elite.
Under the one country, two systems approach, China agreed to allow Hong Kong to enjoy a "high degree" of autonomy from Beijing, and the city's Basic Law, the de facto constitution, sets a goal of holding elections for the chief executive post.
Mr Li said that Beijing remained committed to "ensuring the consistent and full implementation of the one-country, two- systems principle.
''This has been written into the Basic Law of the Hong Kong SAR,'' he said.