Sat, Sep 25, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Beijing co-opting HK democrats


China has taken the unprecedented step of inviting some pro-democracy lawmakers to Beijing for National Day celebrations, but critics charged Friday that others were excluded in an attempt to split the opposition here.

"It's the same old tactic, to divide and conquer," said Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄), a veteran activist known as "Longhair" who scored a stunning election victory this month thanks to a big anti-government protest vote.

Leung is not on the guest list for events in Beijing marking the 55th anniversary of the People's Republic of China, but officials invited about 10 other pro-democracy legislators-elect to join a Hong Kong delegation led by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa.

"I believe it is a goodwill gesture," said Audrey Eu (余若薇), an attorney and pro-democracy legislator who won re-election and will attend the celebrations in Beijing. "It is a good thing and I'm sure the people of Hong Kong will welcome it."

China has long viewed pro-democracy figures here as troublemakers and many have been banned from the mainland.

But Beijing has become more conciliatory recently, apparently to help ease the political strife that has gripped the territory for months. Many Hong Kong people are demanding full democracy, but Beijing intervened by ruling in April that Hong Kong residents cannot directly elect their next leader in 2007 or all lawmakers in 2008.

Eu said a packed agenda for next Thursday's events in Beijing may leave no time for substantive discussions with mainland officials -- but she will voice support for democracy if possible. Ordinary Hong Kong residents have no say in choosing their leader, but they picked 30 of 60 lawmakers in the election this month and sided mostly with the pro-democracy camp.

"If there are any opportunities, we will try to express the Hong Kong people's wishes for universal suffrage and full democracy," Eu told reporters.

Eu played down worries about splits in the pro-democracy camp, saying that if people stick to their principles then Beijing's actions won't change anybody's mind.

Others who weren't invited include prominent Democratic Party lawmaker Martin Lee (李柱銘), staunch anti-government critic Emily Lau (劉慧卿) and former radio host Albert Cheng (鄭經翰). Beijing apparently invited just one member of the Democratic Party, Legislator Sin Chung-kai (單仲偕).

"I hope more pro-democracy figures and Democratic Party members will be invited to the receptions," Sin said. The Democratic Party is the biggest opposition group in Hong Kong, but most pro-democracy lawmakers are independents or come from smaller parties.

No official guest list was immediately available. But the pro-Beijing daily Wen Wei Po, viewed as reliable on China's official line, said 10 pro-democracy figures had been invited, along with all legislators-elect from pro-Beijing and pro-business parties.

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