Fri, Jul 11, 2003 - Page 5 News List

China sends team to study Hong Kong mess

AFP , HONG KONG

China has sent a team of officials to gauge Hong Kong's political crisis after massive protest rallies forced a controversial anti-subversion law to be shelved, sources and reports said yesterday.

"The officials have been seeking views from various sectors in the community," said a pro-Beijing politician, who declined to be named.

"They were also seen at the rallies to get a first-hand report of the situation," he said.

His remarks confirmed reports in English-language Hong Kong dailies which said middle-ranking officials from China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of State Security and intelligence agencies had been arriving since early this week.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa called off legislation of an anti-subversion bill on Monday after 500,000 people took to the streets on July 1 in the most spectacular protest in more than a decade.

Some Hong Kong delegates to China's national and legislative and advisory bodies have told Beijing officials that Tung should step down in view of the crisis, the Post said.

Analysts have said China is seriously contemplating the removal of Tung, whose popularity ratings have plunged to their lowest levels since he was installed as the territory's leader six years ago.

So far, Beijing has avoided making a direct response over the most serious crisis in the former British colony which returned to Chinese control in 1997.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan on Tuesday said Beijing believed "the majority of Hong Kong people and mainland compatriots" had confidence in Hong Kong's government.

However, pro-Beijing newspapers in Hong Kong have begun criticizing the performance of Tung's administration.

"The government should take concrete action to improve its governance with the greatest resolve," Ta Kung Pao said in an editorial.

The Wen Wei Po for its part highlighted remarks by international ratings agency Standard and Poor's that the July 1 march had challenged the political management and credibility of Tung's administration.

A follow-up to the July 1 march was held late Wednesday when 50,000 protesters gathered outside Hong Kong's legislature building to call on the territory's leadership to step down.

Many of the protesters urged Tung to step down, and some carried effigies of the embattled leader and his security secretary Regina Ip.

James Tien, chairman of the Beijing-linked pro-business Liberal Party, on Sunday resigned from Tung's Cabinet, saying more time was needed to consider the security laws.

Tien's party would have joined the Democrats in opposing their early passage.

Tung pledged Wednesday that the government would "listen more carefully" to views on the security bill and any grievances aired at the rally.

Hong Kong is required, under the terms of Article 23 of the constitution set after its return to China in 1997, to enact a national security law banning treason, sedition, subversion and the theft of state secrets.

Critics are concerned China's communist leaders could use the law to suppress freedoms, stifle reporting of official abuses, prevent protests against the government and block access to legal representation.

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