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China Gives Backing to Hong Kong's Leader


Chinese officials say they support eventual democracy for Hong Kong a week after the city's legislators voted down a controversial political reform package. The territory's chief executive, Donald Tsang, has just wrapped up meetings in Beijing, where he received modest praise from his bosses.

In his meeting Wednesday with Hong Kong's chief executive Donald Tsang, Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said Beijing's goodwill toward Hong Kong had not changed and praised the territory for its sustained economic growth and social stability. He also said Beijing has always supported the democratic development of Hong Kong, but that the process must be gradual.

Mr. Wen says it needs to be done in a stable, healthy, and orderly manner as this would be in the best interest of Hong Kong people.

Neither Premier Wen nor President Hu Jintao gave a hint on a timetable for Hong Kong's democratization process during Mr. Tsang's two-day visit, which ended on Wednesday.

The visit came a week after lawmakers voted down Mr. Tsang's Beijing-backed proposal for modest electoral reforms. Pro-democracy legislators rejected the bill because it failed to set a timetable for full democracy.

Joseph Cheng, a political scientist at Hong Kong's City University, believes all parties concerned are now in a more difficult position.

"On the part of the pro-democracy movement, it has become more difficult to engage in a dialogue with the Chinese authorities. And at the same time for Donald Tsang's administration it is doubtful it has the same kind of support from Beijing from now on and it is certainly under pressure from the pro-Beijing united front," said Mr. Cheng. "The people there certainly do not like Donald and they will use his weaknesses to engage in more severe criticisms of him openly and in Beijing."

During Mr. Tsang's visit China's leaders underscored their support for him. Mr. Cheng believes they had no choice, as the absence of public praise would have weakened the Hong Kong government.

Hong Kong, a former British colony, has been under Chinese sovereignty since 1997. Its local government has a high degree of autonomy and the city retains a capitalist system and civil liberties not found elsewhere in China, such as a free press. However, the chief executive is chosen by a committee of eight hundred people approved by China and only half of the legislators are directly elected.

The defeated political reform plan would have doubled the size of the committee that selects the chief executive and made other modest changes to the system.

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