Fri, Jan 14, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Hong Kong leader `sorry for inadequacies'

CONTRITE The Beijing-appointed Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa apologized publicly for shortcomings, while the US Envoy called for free elections

AFP AND DPA , HONG KONG

Pedestrians stand under a large screen in downtown Hong Kong yesterday, as the territory's Chief executive Tung Chee-hwa is seen answering legislators questions about the policy address he delivered.

PHOTO: AP

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) surprised his critics this week by admitting to his inadequacies, but analysts said yesterday he still failed to confront the core problems of his embattled administration.

Despite the Beijing-appointed chief executive's promises to improve his performance, analysts don't expect him to launch any major projects during the rest of his term.

In an unprecedented move, Tung admitted that his "shortcomings and inadequacies" had undermined the credibility of his policy-making capability.

He confessed to his "failure" to establish the vision of "people-based" governance in the southern Chinese enclave and conceded he had fallen short of "thinking what people think."

In his annual policy address Wednesday, Tung also admitted to introducing "too many reform measures too hastily," and said he and his team had "lacked a sense of crisis, political sensitivity as well as the necessary experience and capability to cope with political and economic changes."

Wong Ka-ying, research officer of Hong Kong Institute for Asia-Pacific studies at Chinese University, said, "For a chief executive to admit wrongdoings in a policy address is very rare."

"But was his policy good enough to change things? There is very little he can do," he added.

Tung's self-criticism came three weeks after Chinese President Hu Jintao (胡錦濤) urged Tung to improve and identify his "inadequacies" in an unprecedented public dressing-down.

"Obviously, it's a response to the central government's criticism. It's part of the Chinese politics," said Anthony Cheung, political professor at Hong Kong City University.

The Hong Kong leader has been forced into a string of embarrassing policy climbdowns in the past few months, most shaming of which was the cancellation of a US$3 billion real estate investment trust (REIT) listing after an elderly woman challenged its legality in the courts.

Also, pressure groups accuse local tycoons of colluding with the government, which regularly gives big companies the go-ahead for large projects.

Last April, Beijing ruled out full elections for the territory's leader in 2007 and the entire legislature in 2008.

The move prompted a massive protest march and criticism by democrats who argue that universal suffrage was promised in the Basic Law, the city's mini-constitution, which came into force after the return to Chinese rule in 1997.

FREE ELECTIONS called

The top US envoy to Hong Kong Thursday called for free elections in the former British colony and said he was "hopeful" they would be allowed soon.

The remarks by US consul-general James Keith come a day after Hong Kong's Beijing-appointed leader Tung Chee-hwa said the territory could move towards full democracy at an "early date."

In his annual policy address Wednesday, Tung said: "As long as we maintain prosperity, stability and social harmony, our democratic constitutional system can develop at a faster pace.

"The ultimate aim of universal suffrage can be achieved at an early date."

Reacting to Tung's remarks, Keith told radio station RTHK that September's limited legislature elections, which attracted a record turnout, demonstrated Hong Kong people's desire for democracy.

"We are very much in favor of more representative government in Hong Kong," he said. "I think it should happen. I am hopeful that it will. That is the best means of achieving success and prosperity in Hong Kong.

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