Wed, Jul 09, 2003 - Page 5 News List

China's top HK man backs Tung

BACKING Gao Siren, who heads Beijing's Hong Kong liaison office, said a delay to controversial legislation will allow for more consultation on the anti-subversion bill

AP , HONG KONG

The top Chinese official in Hong Kong has defended Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's (董建華) decision to delay a national security bill, while a state-run newspaper yesterday branded opponents of the measure as treacherous.

Tung has faced much criticism and numerous calls for his resignation during the standoff over the anti-subversion bill, which opponents call a threat to Hong Kong's freedoms of speech, press and assembly.

But Gao Siren (高祀仁), director of Beijing's liaison office in Hong Kong, said he respected and supported Tung's decision and did not think it would harm the "prestige" of the Hong Kong administration, according to a spokesman for the office, who identified himself only by the surname Chan.

The central government in Beijing has not directly commented on Tung's retreat from plans to get the national security bill enacted today.

Such speedy passage became impossible after a key legislative ally, James Tien (田北俊) of the pro-business Liberal Party, refused to go along and resigned from Tung's top policymaking body.

Echoing comments Tung made after he announced the delay in the bill on Monday, Gao was quoted by pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Pao as saying the postponement will allow more public consultation on the contentious measure.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution requires an anti-subversion law be passed but specifies no actual timetable.

Tung was forced to back down after a half million people turned out on July 1 -- the sixth anniversary of Hong Kong's return from British to Chinese sovereignty -- in a massive protest that stunned the territory.

Further echoing Tung, Gao also called for quicker economic revival in Hong Kong, saying that could calm some of the public concerns that have been aggravated by record unemployment of 8.3 percent.

Critics have said Tung has been unable to boost the economy but keeps bringing it up as a smoke screen to detract attention from the fight over the anti-subversion law.

Despite many calls for Tung to quit, the Chinese central government has long supported the former shipping tycoon.

Tung's popularity among ordinary Hong Kong people has been dismal.

The state-controlled China Daily English-language newspaper editorialized yesterday that Hong Kong lawmakers and the public should "throw their weight behind Tung Chee-hwa's administration so that it could complete this unshirkable historic mission in a timely fashion."

The newspaper said Hong Kong opposition figures who want to stop the measure are guilty of "not only the dereliction of their civic duties and obligations but a treacherous act against their motherland and nation."

Separately, a local delegate to China's National People's Congress who also is on Tung's Executive Council called on Tung to reshuffle the policymaking body and address people's anger to avoid an escalating crisis.

"The July 1 demonstration has dealt a huge blow to Hong Kong's governance," Cheng Yiu-tong told reporters yesterday.

"If the government does not properly handle such public resentment, as soon as possible, I believe that will give rise to an administration crisis," the local delegate said.

A group of about 20 pro-democracy activists protested outside Hong Kong government offices yesterday, demanding the resignation of Tung and his top deputies.

The US, the EU, UK, Australia and New Zealand all raised questions about the anti-subversion bill -- which critics call the biggest threat to Hong Kong's civil liberties since the handover on July 1, 1997. China accused them of improperly meddling in its internal affairs.

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