Hong Kong Visiting U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback on Friday praised huge pro-democracy rallies demonstrating "people power" in Hong Kong, and slammed the territory's mini-constitution as an obstacle to freedom.
"The people of Hong Kong deserve to live in a true democracy where they elect their own leaders," said Brownback, a Republican from Kansas.
He said people around the world were "inspired" to see 500,000 participants march on the streets against a Beijing-backed national security bill on July 1, and subsequent large pro-democracy protests.
The "demonstrations established that people can peacefully air their grievances with the government without undermining national stability," Brownback said in a forum here, the last stop on his weeklong Asian trip.
Britain handed this former colony back to China in 1997. It has since been ruled under the "one country, two systems" principle.
"Beijing's desire for control must be reconciled with Hong Kong's desire for democracy," he said.
The American senator's weeklong tour, with destinations including Japan and Vietnam, aimed to persuade Asian nations to lift bans on U.S. beef imports.
Brownback criticized Hong Kong's mini-constitution known as the Basic Law, the Chinese-drafted document adopted after the handover.
"The Basic Law was not drafted with the consent of those it governs, and it contains too many provisions that ultimately undermine the freedoms of each Hong Kong citizen," he said.
He urged Hong Kong democracy advocates to develop "a viable alternative" to the mini-constitution, which sets full democracy as an eventual goal.
No timetable has been given by the government for direct elections of the territory's leader or its Legislative Council, however.
Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa was chosen by an 800-member committee, and citizens were able to directly choose only 24 of 60 legislative seats in the last elections.
Brownback's Friday remarks quickly drew fire from the Hong Kong government and Beijing's allies.
"Under the Basic Law, the freedoms of Hong Kong people are fully protected," said Claudia Yeung, a spokeswoman for the territory's Constitutional Affairs Bureau. "We cannot see that there are any provisions in the Basic Law which undermine the public's freedoms."
Ma Lik, chairman of the top pro-Beijing party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, said, "He doesn't have a clear understanding of the Basic Law, which ensures stability and has nothing to do with suppressing democracy."
"There's absolutely no need for others to teach us about democracy," he added.