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Hong Kong, Chinese Leaders Meet in Effort to Resolve Political Crisis - 2003-07-19


Hong Kong's embattled chief executive, Tung Chee-hwa, traveled to Beijing Saturday for a crisis meeting with China's top officials. Mr. Tung's unpopularity and how to restore the credibility of his government were thought to be at the top of the day's agenda.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa made a duty call to China's capital Saturday to ensure the continued support of his political patrons in Beijing, and, presumably, to receive direction on how to resolve the political crisis back home.

There are signs that China's leaders have been shaken by the huge outpouring of public sentiment in Hong Kong, protesting national security legislation proposed by Mr. Tung, and expressing dissatisfaction with the way he has governed the former British colony.

Mr. Tung has be forced to repeatedly bow to public pressure over the past two weeks, first amending the proposed legislation, then withdrawing it indefinitely, and then accepting the resignation of two highly unpopular ministers. A third high-level official, Health Director Margaret Chan, resigned Saturday to take up a position with the World Health Organization.

Despite repeated assurances that he has heard the people's voice, Mr. Tung still faces unrelenting calls for his resignation, and for his successor to be chosen by direct election. Mr. Tung was essentially hand picked by Beijing, and as things stand at the moment, so will his successor.

Mr. Tung said Thursday that he would not resign, and the leadership is expected to support him in that position - at least for the moment. But James Tang, a politics professor at the University of Hong Kong, says that the Chinese government still faces some tough questions.

"Well I think that Beijing's confidence in Tung's political skills has been really rocked," he said. "The question now is to what extent they would think that Tung will be able to learn, and to what extent they would be able to identify a successor to Tung quickly."

The Chinese media said Saturday that Mr. Tung was given an unusual high-level reception by the nation's top leaders, including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao. A special photo opportunity with President Hu and Mr. Tung was arranged for the Hong Kong news media, to illustrate Beijing's support for Mr. Tung's continuation in office. There are signs, however, that Beijing might try to force changes in Mr. Tung's style of governing, which is one of the chief targets of complaint in Hong Kong.

After half a million people took to the streets on July 1 to protest the national security legislation, Beijing sent dozens of representatives to Hong Kong to sound out local opinion.

An influential mainland academic this week suggested that a deputy with strong political skills be appointed to assist Mr. Tung. One of the persistent allegations against Mr. Tung is that he is politically inept, and incapable of dealing with crises.

And Friday, the official Xinhua News Agency announced that Beijing had replaced its top representative in Hong Kong. The implication is that the leaders are not happy with the way things have been going, and want to see changes made.

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