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China's Leadership Reaffirms Support for Hong Kong Chief Executive - 2003-07-19

China's top leaders have publicly renewed their support for Hong Kong's embattled chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, indicating that Mr. Tung will remain in office, despite pressure for him to resign. Chinese President Hu Jintao also reaffirmed his commitment to the passage of proposed national security legislation, which has caused widespread dissatisfaction among Hong Kong residents.

China's leaders attempted to put an end Saturday to questions over the future of Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa, by voicing "total confidence" in Mr. Tung and his government.

The expression of support, which was more public than predicted, came during a crisis visit by Mr. Tung to the Chinese capital. Hong Kong has been in turmoil throughout July, following mass street protests and the resignation of several of Mr. Tung's key aides.

At a photo opportunity in Beijing's Great Hall of the People, Chinese President Hu Jintao smiled and posed with Mr. Tung, illustrating Beijing's support for the chief executive's continuation in office. At a meeting in Beijing's Zhongnanhai government compound, Premier Wen Jiabao made the leadership's support more explicit.

Premier Wen says he believes the government led by Tung-Chee Hwa can lead the Hong Kong people to overcome their current difficulties.

Appearing before the news media later, Mr. Tung re-emphasized the message delivered by Premier Wen.

Mr. Tung says that China's leaders have total confidence in him and his government. He thinks that, together, they can take Hong Kong forward to complete a restructuring of the economy.

With the question of his continuation in office at least temporarily resolved, Mr. Tung must turn his attention to the political issues facing him back home.

One of the most controversial is the national security legislation. Many Hong Kong residents fear it will lead to a curb on their freedoms, and a half million people demonstrated against the bill on July 1.

Following the demonstration, Mr. Tung bowed to public pressure, first amending the proposed legislation, then withdrawing it indefinitely. On Saturday, China's Xinhua News Agency quoted President Hu as saying that he was confident the legislation would eventually be passed.

Mr. Tung also has to rebuild his government. Two of his top ministers, both of them highly unpopular, resigned earlier this week. A third high-level official, Health Director Margaret Chan, resigned Saturday to take up a position with the World Health Organization.