Sat, Jul 10, 2004 - Page 1 News List

China issues visa to former Hong Kong dissident

REUTERS , HONG KONG

Beijing has issued a visa to a former democracy activist in Hong Kong who had long been denied entry to China, a move that may help it improve ties with the city's pro-democracy forces.

Analysts believe Beijing is softening its stance to avoid antagonizing voters before elections in September, when pro-democracy forces will try to wrest control of Hong Kong's Legislative Council from pro-Beijing supporters.

John Sham (岑建勳), who had been barred from China since he supported the ill-fated Tiananmen Square movement 15 years ago, said yesterday that he had received a one-time visa and longer-term arrangements would be made later.

"On July 6, I was notified I could apply. So I applied that day and it was issued to me on July 7. I went yesterday," Sham told Hong Kong Cable Television in a telephone interview from Shanghai.

Sham, a prominent film producer, is not presently active in democracy campaigns.

Last month, he said Hong Kong's Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) had been trying to help him get a visa.

"My attitude to the June 4 movement is unchanged," Sham said then, referring to the 1989 Tiananmen student movement.

"I hope people won't peg this issue to whether I can return to China, because I can tell you clearly now no conditions have been raised during the process," he said.

China barred many prominent Hong Kong democracy activists from setting foot in China after they supported the Tiananmen Square movement.

In recent years, some have managed to get visas to return to China but only in exceptional cases.

"We hope that after John Sham got his, others will get theirs too," veteran democracy leader and Legislative Council member Martin Lee (李柱銘) told reporters. "This is our right."

Quoting unidentified sources, newspapers reported last month that China would soon issue visas to some Hong Kong democracy advocates in a goodwill move.

This year, Beijing launched a series of stinging attacks on leading pro-democracy activists in the territory but it began toning down its rhetoric in recent weeks, even proposing face-to-face talks with its arch-rivals.

This week legislators are due to debate a motion calling on Tung to help communication between the Chinese government and the territory's democracy champions.

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