Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Hearing the Clamor of Hong Kong's Democrats ; Movement Fights for Spot on Agenda during Obama Adviser's Visit to Beijing

Newspaper article International New York Times

U.S. Hearing the Clamor of Hong Kong's Democrats ; Movement Fights for Spot on Agenda during Obama Adviser's Visit to Beijing

Article excerpt

Obama's national security adviser is expected to bring up the city's democracy movement on a trip to China, but other issues are crowding the agenda.

Pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong are preparing for what some predict will be a tense final showdown with the Chinese government over whether Beijing will permit genuine democracy to take root in the former British colony.

But in Washington, where the political quarrels in a wealthy Asian financial center understandably capture less attention than marauding militants in Iraq or Russian artillery units in Ukraine, there has been little reaction to the clash in Hong Kong over a new voting law.

That should change this weekend, when Susan E. Rice, President Obama's national security adviser, is scheduled to make her first visit to Beijing since taking the job 15 months ago. Administration officials said Ms. Rice would raise American concerns about the standoff in Hong Kong when she meets with Chinese leaders.

It will be just one topic on a crowded agenda that includes nuclear talks with Iran, tensions after a Chinese fighter jet buzzed an American surveillance plane last month, and President Vladimir V. Putin's incursions into Ukraine, which American officials worry are being watched with a bit too much admiration by President Xi Jinping.

"It's a relationship that has been somewhat frazzled and rocky over the last six months," said Jeffrey A. Bader, a former senior adviser on China in the National Security Council. "Therefore, having White House involvement in the relationship helps steady it."

For Ms. Rice, who prides herself on her blunt advocacy of human rights, the throngs of protesters in Hong Kong are difficult to ignore. While she does not want the topic to swamp her visit, a senior official said she would remind the Chinese that Hong Kong had thrived with Western-style civil liberties since Britain returned it to China in 1997.

A new law proposed by China's legislature would require candidates for chief executive of Hong Kong to be vetted by a committee, effectively ruling out anybody the Chinese government deemed unacceptable. Pro-democracy activists are promising a "new era of civil disobedience," with demonstrators threatening to paralyze the financial district of a city that is home to more than 50,000 American expatriates.

China's likely response will be to tell Ms. Rice not to meddle in its internal affairs. Few people expect the Chinese government to retreat from its proposal, which has put Hong Kong's pro-democracy parties in a bind because if they reject it, they are rejecting a law that, on paper, gives every citizen the right to vote for their leader.

Still, pro-democracy leaders fervently hope Ms. Rice will register American concern, particularly since Hong Kong's old colonial sovereign, Britain, which negotiated guarantees of civil liberties and autonomy with the Chinese for Hong Kong, has said next to nothing about it. …

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