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People step on a sign depicting an enlarged cover of China's recent "One country, two systems" white paper over the control of Hong Kong, during a mass protest demanding universal suffrage in Hong Kong July 1, 2014. REUTERS/Liau Chung-ren


BEIJING (Reuters) - China's top newspaper on Friday dismissed fears that the autonomy of the former British colony of Hong Kong was being eroded, saying Beijing's policy had not and would not change, following mass pro-democracy protests earlier in the week.

Hong Kong returned to China in 1997 with wide-ranging autonomy under an agreed formula of "one country, two systems", allowing protests such as Tuesday's march to take place.

But pro-democracy activists say China is failing to make good on its promise of universal suffrage. They want elections in 2017 in which everyone can cast a vote for the chief executive. China wants only pro-Beijing candidates on the ballot.

The standoff intensified last month when Beijing published an unprecedented cabinet-level white paper bluntly reminding Hong Kong that China remains firmly in control of Hong Kong.

In a front page commentary, the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the ruling Communist Party, said the white paper was proof that China was committed to Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy.

"Some people think that the white paper deviated from the basic policy the centre (of the party) first proposed, and others worry about whether the centre will squeeze Hong Kong's high degree of autonomy," it wrote. "This is all totally baseless."

Critics of the white paper say its assertion of China's "comprehensive jurisdiction" over Hong Kong, as well as its requirement that the city's "administrators", including judges, be patriotic, are violations of the Basic Law and the agreement that China signed with Britain which paved the way for the handover.

The newspaper admitted that in the 1980s, when Beijing came up with its proposals for Hong Kong, some people in the territory feared China's changing its position.

But since former paramount leader Deng Xiaoping promised the high degree of autonomy and it was written into Hong Kong's Basic Law, which governs its relationship with the mainland, the country's leaders have never veered from this course, it said.

Hong Kong has kept its capitalist system and way of life and maintained its position as a global financial hub, the newspaper added.

"Experience proves the centre keeps its promises, and the centre's basic policy towards Hong Kong is completely correct," it said.

Hong Kong's long-term stability and best interests could only be guaranteed by following Beijing's "one country, two systems" policy, the newspaper wrote.

"The centre's basic policy towards Hong Kong has, from the very start, not changed, and there will certainly be no change," it added.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Additional reporting by Adam Rose in HONG KONG; Editing by Nick Macfie)

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