November 1, 2019 / 5:03 AM / 13 days ago

Hong Kong bourse's head calls himself great believer in 'one country, two systems'

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The chief executive of Hong Kong’s stock exchange operator, Charles Li, said on Friday he fully supported the Chinese-ruled city’s “one country, two systems” formula, after earlier saying the system had flaws.

FILE PHOTO: Charles Li, CEO of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing Limited (HKEX), speaks at the Sandler O'Neill + Partners Global Exchange and Brokerage Conference in New York, U.S., June 6, 2018. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo

In a rare public criticism of Hong Kong’s unique “one country, two systems”, Li said in a London speech this week that there were “some fundamental flaws at the very beginning of the implementation”.

The formula was enshrined during the handover from Britain to China in 1997, which permits Hong Kong wide ranging freedoms not available on the mainland such as an independent judiciary.

Hong Kong has been battered by more than five months of protests fuelled by concerns Beijing is undermining those freedoms. China denies meddling and accuses foreign governments including the United States and Britain of stirring up trouble.

Li said on Friday that some headlines in “western media” had not reflected what he was trying to convey.

“Lots of people in China think I was nuts,” Li told reporters. “But when you have a headline ... and when that gets translated into pieces out of context, and reported out of context to start with, obviously people have issues.”

Li, who runs Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing (0388.HK) (HKEX), did not name Reuters which reported his London speech and his comments about “fundamental flaws”.

“I simply said I’m a great believer in ‘one country, two systems’, the design of the system works perfectly but the implementation at the very beginning had certain flaws,” Li said.

“On the one hand, the central government really needs to have confidence that whatever is going to happen in Hong Kong, no one will challenge that Hong Kong is part of China and its sovereignty is supreme,” he said.

“On the other hand unless the Hong Kong people ultimately enjoy universal suffrage, they will always consider any efforts not to allow them that to affect “one country, two systems”.

Hong Kong protesters are demanding universal suffrage, an independent inquiry into claims of police brutality, amnesty for those charged, and that the government and police stop calling protesters “rioters”.

The financial hub slid into recession for the first time since the global financial crisis in the third quarter, according to preliminary government data on Thursday, weighed down by violent anti-government protests and the protracted U.S.-China trade war.

(Fixes typo par 7)

Reporting by Alun John and Noah Sin; Editing by Michael Perry

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