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Embassy Row: Hong Kong not America’s business

- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 26, 2013

China's communist rulers are accusing the top U.S. diplomat in Hong Kong of interfering in the country's internal affairs by promoting democracy.

The Chinese have been agitated since Clifford A. Hart Jr. arrived in July as the new U.S. consul-general and noted that Washington looks forward to "genuine democratic suffrage" in Hong Kong, which enjoys broad autonomy in China but has a restricted voting system.

China displayed its latest indignation after Song Zhe, China's Foreign Ministry commissioner for Hong Kong, met recently with Mr. Hart, who, as consul-general, is independent from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing.

"Song emphasized that the development of Hong Kong's political system is its own internal affair. Foreign governments and officials should not interfere," the ministry's website said.

China hands said the diplomatic nuance reflects the Communist Party's genuine anger at the U.S. and fear that the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong could get out of control.

"In Hong Kong, it seems, the Foreign Ministry wants the American consulate to keep its opinions to itself. This is not possible," Hong Kong analyst Frank Ching wrote in the South China Morning Post this month. "Telling Americans not to talk is like King Canute telling the tide not to come in."

Communist-backed newspapers in Hong Kong have been warning of "plots" by foreign spies to take over the city before the next elections in 2017.

"We are entering a very sensitive time," one Asian diplomat told the Reuters news agency last week.

Chinese authorities are trying to balance demands for more democracy in Hong Kong with a promise to consider broader suffrage beyond the current electoral committee of 1,200 business leaders and prominent citizens with ties to the Communist Party.

Beijing authorities have hinted they might allow all eligible Hong Kong residents to vote for the next leader, called the chief executive, in 2017 and for the legislature in 2020.

Mr. Hart insists that he has only repeated U.S. and Chinese positions when he talked about broader democracy for Hong Kong.

In his first public speech since arriving in Hong Kong, Mr. Hart said Tuesday that the U.S. supports the so-called "one-country, two-systems" policy in place since Britain turned over its former colony to China in 1997.

"The United States government has repeatedly made clear that it supports Hong Kong's progress toward genuine universal suffrage," he told the American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong. "This U.S. policy is unchanged."

However, he added, some of Hong Kong's "lively, free media" have carried "creative accounts" of his meetings with Hong Kong political leaders.

"I'm reminded of an observation ascribed to the great Yogi Berra," he said of the legendary baseball player noted for his twisted quips: 'I never said most of the things I said.'"

A SNUB IN BOSNIA

The top U.S. diplomat in Bosnia snubbed the contentious leader of the country's Serbian local government this week, underscoring Washington's displeasure with the rate of reform in the ethnically divided Balkan nation nearly 20 years after the end of a civil war that left 100,000 dead.

Nicholas M. Hill, the charge d'affaires at the U.S. Embassy in the Bosnian capital of Sarajevo, held talks with officials in Banja Luka, capital of the Serb Republic, but refused to meet with President Milorad Dodik.

"At this moment, we do not see how meeting with [him] can be productive," Mr. Hill told reporters. "We want to see progress. He could fulfill some of his promises, and he can do that easily."

Mr. Dodik was narrowly elected three years ago, when he was falling out of favor in the West for questioning Serbian war crimes while in his second term as prime minister from 2006 to 2010.

Embassy Row is published on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. James Morrison can be reached at jmorrison@washingtontimes.com or @EmbassyRow.

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