Hong Kong's future leader Tung Chee Hwa, mired in controversy over a plan to curb political liberties, said the territory would become more democratic but only gradually.
Tung flew to Beijing early Wednesday to discuss a raft of outstanding problems facing him in Hong Kong's final 55 days as a British colony with Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen and China's Hong Kong policy chief Lu Ping."Actually over the next 10 years, we have a very progressive but orderly development of a political structure which will become increasingly democratic," Tung, anointed by China to run Hong Kong after Beijing resumes sovereignty on July 1, said in an interview with CNBC Asia Television aired on Wednesday.
He was referring to the gradual democratization envisaged in the Basic Law, Hong Kong's post-handover constitution promulgated by China in 1990.
Tung said Hong Kong was following a path of development set by other Asian nations.
"In Asia . . . economic success and freedom has preceded political development," he said.
"And in Hong Kong, of course, we have tremendous economic success and economic freedom, and political freedom . . . is something as a colony we really never had until about six years ago . . . we are now developing it," he said.
Tung's burdens in running Hong Kong include hefty public opposition to his China-inspired plan to whittle down civil liberties, restricting protest rights and foreign funding of local political parties.
On Wednesday a key member of Tung's Cabinet signaled that the government-in-waiting might soften the controversial proposals as the public had demanded for a more liberal approach during a three-week pulsetaking of views on the issue.
"There are many proposals that have been put forward to us," Henry Tang, a member of Tung's future Executive Council, told reporters.
"In the consultation exercise, there are more liberal (proposals) than what is in the consultation document," he said.
"I'm saying that yes, I think, some of them are worthy of our consideration and they will be considered and finalized."
The pro-democracy camp and lawyers in Hong Kong have strongly protested the proposed curbs.