HONG KONG – The United States and Britain attacked China's decision to rule out full democracy for Hong Kong in the near term, and Beijing responded Tuesday by telling them to mind their own business.
Mainland China's most powerful legislative panel told Hong Kong citizens in a ruling on Monday that they cannot democratically choose a successor to unpopular Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (search) in 2007. Beijing also said Hong Kong cannot directly elect all lawmakers in 2008.
"We are Chinese," Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing (search) told reporters in Shanghai on Tuesday. "Are you clear on that? Hong Kong is China's Hong Kong."
Li added: "Do you think Hong Kong was democratic under British rule? Did the British raise concerns about that? Did the Americans raise concerns? No. Why don't you take a look at this double standard?"
Many Hong Kong people have been demanding the right to democratically choose their leader, and they responded to Monday's ruling with a mix of defiance and resignation.
Student activists burned a copy of Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law (search). Pro-democracy lawmakers chanted slogans and unfurled a banner before storming out of a meeting with a top mainland legislative official.
The Standard newspaper on Tuesday lamented "a sad day for China."
"Yesterday's ruling from the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress (search) that there will be no democracy for Hong Kong was bad enough," The Standard wrote in an editorial. "The way it was delivered showed contempt for Hong Kong's people."
Critics say the decision violates China's agreement to grant Hong Kong a great deal of autonomy after the former British colony was handed back in July 1997.
Beijing said full democracy remains a goal for Hong Kong, but that a quick shift to universal suffrage poses too many risks of social and economic instability.
The U.S. State Department disagreed, saying international confidence in Hong Kong is based on its rule of law and a high degree of autonomy.
"We're disappointed by the decision, as we believe it doesn't adequately reflect the expressed wishes of the Hong Kong people for universal suffrage and democracy," State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said in Washington.
British Foreign Office Minister Bill Rammell said in London that Beijing had acted inconsistently with its handover promises.
Many Hong Kong residents had expected Beijing to clamp down, but they still were disappointed.
"Hong Kong doesn't want to fight with the central government," said Dolby Tong, a 32-year-old shipping salesman. "We just want to choose our own government which reflects citizen's voices."
Ordinary Hong Kongers now have no say in choosing their leader. They will get to pick 30 of the 60 legislators here in September, but they won't get to elect more than half any time soon, Beijing ruled. The rest are picked by special interest groups, such as businessmen and bankers, who tend to side with Beijing.
Qiao Xiaoyang, deputy secretary-general of the Standing Committee who came to Hong Kong to explain Beijing's ruling, said Monday's decision "doesn't spell the end of democracy in Hong Kong, but rather it's a new starting point for Hong Kong's democratic evolution."