Sat, Dec 06, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Chinese media warns Hong Kong over reform calls

AP , HONG KONG

Amid growing calls for democracy in Hong Kong, Beijing has issued residents here with a reminder that they can't change the political system on their own.

The government-run Xinhua News Agency quoted Chinese legal experts as saying any changes in the way Hong Kong's leader and legislators are chosen must be approved by China's National People's Congress, as spelled out in Hong Kong's mini-constitution.

``Political review not purely an HK affair,'' read a banner headline in yesterday's Hong Kong edition of the state-run China Daily newspaper.

The reports came out after Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華), met with central government leaders in Beijing this week to discuss the political climate in Hong Kong, where the ruling pro-Beijing and pro-government party suffered a serious defeat in local elections last month.

That defeat galvanized pro-democracy figures who hope to score further victories in next September's legislative elections.

Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) told Tung in Beijing to listen more closely to the people, according to an earlier Xinhua report that said Tung had been advised to "draw on the wisdom of the masses."

The remark was taken by many in Hong Kong as a go-ahead for more debate on democratic reforms, but the subsequent signal was seen as a warning against trying to go too far.

Analysts called Beijing's latest message heavy-handed and warned that it might add to people's frustration with the unpopular Tung.

``This is certainly a warning to Hong Kong, trying to cool down the demands for political re-forms,'' said Joseph Cheng (鄭宇 碩), professor of politics at the City University of Hong Kong.

Cheng said it might discourage some people from speaking out, but predicted it won't change sentiment here and ``the situation may well continue to deteriorate.''

Voters turned out in record numbers for the Nov. 23 District Council elections to hand a stunning defeat to the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong, which has been closely allied to Tung and blamed its defeat largely on that association.

Pro-democracy politicians gained ground, with many Hong Kongers charged up after a July 1 march by 500,000 people that forced Tung to back down on an anti-subversion bill critics called a threat to freedoms.

Ordinary Hong Kong residents currently have no say in choosing their leader, but they get to pick 30 of the territory's 60 lawmakers in elections next September. The government's allies fear another setback as the people get more political clout.

Hong Kong's mini-constitution sets out full democracy as an eventual goal but sets no timetable. The government has pledged to discuss reforms beginning next year. Critics have long accused Tung of dragging his feet on the issue and say residents should be allowed to directly elect their next leader in 2007 and the entire Legislative Council in 2008.

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