Chinese officials say the cabinet will ask top lawmakers to settle a dispute over how many years Hong Kong's next leader will serve.

China's official Xinhua news agency says the State Council -- China's cabinet -- decided today (Sunday) to request that the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress interpret Hong Kong's constitution and resolve the disagreement.

The dispute began last month when Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa announced he was retiring because of ill health.

Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmakers and legal experts have argued that the Basic Law -- the territory's mini constitution -- says that Mr. Tung's successor should serve a full, five-year term. But the government and mainland legal experts insist that the next leader should finish the remaining two years in Mr. Tung's term.