Tue, Jun 29, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Hong Kong activist said near clearance for travel to China

PRE-ELECTION WOOING As both democracy proponents and Chinese officials vie to show improved relations, Martin Lee might benefit

HONG KONG , AFP

A leading Hong Kong democrat barred from China may be granted entry as part of a peace deal to end a long-running political feud, an English-language newspaper reported yesterday.

Pro-democracy legislator Martin Lee (李柱銘) has been short-listed by Beijing for an entry permit, The Standard said, citing a source close to China's Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office.

More hardline democrats, like Szeto Wah (司徒華) and outspoken legislator Emily Lau (劉慧卿) have been excluded from the list because of their continuing stance on China's Hong Kong policies and the city's leader Tung Chee-hwa (董建華), the report said.

Lee said he had not been approached by mainland officials.

"I have openly stated my dream of going to the mainland. However, it is not worthwhile trying to realize my dream if it will polarize the democrats and Democratic Party," he was quoted as saying.

Lee has been banned from entering China, where his family originated, since he denounced the June 4, 1989, massacre of pro-democracy citizens and students in and around Tiananmen Square.

He has cited the ban as evidence of China's unwillingness to discuss political progress in Hong Kong.

The source told The Standard that Lee was included on the list after he introduced a goodwill motion in the Legislative Council last Wednesday, urging people to work with the government.

If true, the move could signal a thaw in the long conflict between democrats and the city's rulers in Beijing over electoral reforms in the former British colony.

Tensions escalated in April after Beijing rejected public demands for direct elections by 2007, when the next chief executive is set to be be chosen.

Both sides have begun making conciliatory gestures to win over moderate voters ahead of crucial legislative elections later this year.

Democrats fear the conflict will discourage voters from going to the polls on September 12, while China wants to win undecided electors over to pro-Bei-jing parties.

Victory for democrats could result in government gridlock and would cause further image problems for China.

In the latest round of tension-easing, democrats agreed to drop their "give power to the people" slogan at a pro-democracy rally Thursday for fear it would give the impression they supported independence from China.

An unnamed "leading official" of the Chinese representative office in the city welcomed Lee's call for unity and cooperation. He also said his move was positive and good for "social harmony."

Beijing's charm offensive has been partly motivated to defuse expectations for Thursday's July 1 rally, which like last year's anti-Beijing march is expected to attract hundreds of thousands.

As part of this public relations blitz, Tung has promised to listen more to the democracy camp.

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