Thu, Mar 04, 2004 - Page 5 News List

HK poll shows lack of confidence in Chinese leadership

REUTERS , HONG KONG

Beijing's vitriolic attacks on pro-democracy forces in Hong Kong to try to silence demands for more voting rights have dented residents' confidence in China's central government, a new survey shows.

About 43 percent of 1,045 people interviewed in the poll, conducted between Feb. 20 to 23, said they trusted Beijing, down from 50 percent at the end of December. Those who said they mistrust Beijing rose to 22 percent from 19 percent.

The poll coincided with an increasingly strident campaign by Beijing to muffle demands for more voting rights in the territory.

Researcher Robert Chung at the University of Hong Kong, which conducted the poll, said Beijing's rhetoric, including calling pro-democracy figures unpatriotic, could backfire.

"If our mainland authorities continue to equate patriotism with loving the Communist Party, it will have a very damaging effect on the image of the central government," Chung said.

Analysts say Beijing's increasingly hardline stance could prompt a sharp rise in votes for pro-democracy candidates in legislative elections in September.

If the pro-democracy candidates win more than half of the 60 legislative seats, they will be able for the first time to veto government policies and bring the administration to its knees.

The row is certain to escalate with three key pro-democracy lawmakers heading for Washington this week to address the Senate on the city's fight for more rights, a move which Beijing has condemned and which its supporters have labelled as treacherous.

Gao Siren (高祀仁), Beijing's top envoy in Hong Kong, said: "They do not care about Hong Kong's economic development. To canvass for more votes, they make such performances."

A poll published by the Ming Pao newspaper found 49 percent of 502 people interviewed supported the lawmakers' visit to Washington.

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