Thu, Feb 24, 2005 - Page 5 News List

`People's choice' a possibility for next HK leader: Beijing

AP , HONG KONG

A top Chinese official in Hong Kong said Beijing is willing to go along with the people's choice of the territory's next leader, newspapers reported yesterday, a remark that challenged the popular belief that China's rulers will handpick the next leader.

"As long as the candidate is acceptable to most Hong Kong people, the person will be acceptable to the central government. This is the principle," Yang Wenchang (楊文昌), commissioner of the foreign ministry in the territory, told reporters at a reception Tuesday, Ming Pao Daily News reported.

Hong Kong has remained partially democratic since returning to Chinese rule in 1997. But voters can't directly elect the chief executive. The leader is elected by an 800-person committee loyal to Beijing.

Last year, China stirred a public outrage here by rejecting people's demands for the direct election of the chief executive when Tung Chee-hwa (董建華) finishes his term in 2007.

Analysts cast doubt on Yang's remark.

"Everybody knows the candidate must have the trust of the central government. If you say the central government will accept anybody who is acceptable to most Hong Kong people, then why don't we have a direct election?" said Joseph Cheng (鄭宇碩), a politics professor at the City University of Hong Kong.

He accused Beijing of trying to steer the public to discuss candidates for the chief executive to avoid any real debate on universal suffrage.

Yang's comment came amid intense speculation about who Tung's successor will be. Gambling tycoon Stanley Ho (何鴻燊) recently pledged his support for Chief Secretary for Administration Donald Tsang (曾蔭權), the territory's No. 2 official.

Tsang, however, had said he was too occupied with his current job to consider the post.

Asked whom he regards as an ideal chief executive candidate, Yang said: "This question is not up to me to say. What I say wouldn't mean much because the chief executive is chosen through an election and I don't have voting rights," according to the pro-Beijing Wen Wei Po newspaper.

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