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Hong Kong Chief Executive Delivers First Policy Speech


Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who took office in June, has delivered his first policy address. He pledged to spend his two-year term in improving governance and strengthening the city's relationship with China. But Mr. Tsang gave little sign as to when the city would have universal suffrage.

Dressed in his trademark bow tie, Hong Kong's leader Donald Tsang delivered few surprises in his policy address.

Mr. Tsang said Hong Kong's most pressing demand was improved governance. And he stressed the need for social harmony.

"We need a strong government to implement 'One country, two systems,' promote social harmony, and enhance economic growth. Strong government is a prerequisite for economic development," he said.

Mr. Tsang said he would expand his cabinet, but gave no details of who would be appointed. He also wants to restructure the highest leadership by delegating some of his power to his administration's top officials.

Disappointing the pro-democracy advocates, Mr. Tsang shied away from the sensitive topic of universal suffrage for 2007 and 2008, when the city's next leader and legislators will be chosen. He said that constitutional reforms for greater democracy are being studied, but provided no timeline for changes. He said a package of proposals would be published later.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, was returned to Beijing's control in 1997, under a deal that gives it considerable autonomy and left its Western-style market economy and judiciary intact. But only half of the city's 60 legislators are directly elected and the chief executive is selected by a committee of eight hundred people - who are all approved by China's communist-led government.

Timothy Wong, a political scientist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, believes that Mr. Tsang needs to remain vague because he cannot afford to offend Beijing.

"For any major political move in terms of political reform regarding universal suffrage, he has to obtain agreement from Beijing first. The position of Beijing is quite clear: No universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008," he said.

The chief executive talked at length about improving Hong Kong's relationship with the central government and the mainland in general, calling it essential for the city's sustained economic growth and constitutional development.

Mr. Tsang scored his first political coup in September, when he led Hong Kong's lawmakers on a visit to southern China. The group included diehard democrats who had been banned from entering China.

Although the economy was expected to dominate the policy address, Mr. Tsang offered few concrete measures to boost Hong Kong's growth. Hong Kong's economy is one of Asia's best performers and is expected to grow by at least six-percent this year.

Mr. Tsang said the government would strengthen its cooperation with neighboring Guangdong province. He also announced an increase in the number of mainland Chinese cities from which tourists will be allowed to come to Hong Kong without joining a tour group. Mr. Tsang also said that the ceiling of the amount of Chinese currency that mainlanders can bring into Hong Kong would be significantly raised.

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