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Senior Chinese Official Visits Hong Kong to Ease Tensions - 2004-04-07


A senior Chinese government official is in Hong Kong for what some observers are calling a "charm offensive." His delegation aims to ease fears over a controversial ruling by the central Chinese government. Qiao Xiaoyang, deputy secretary of the Standing Committee of Beijing's NPC, or National People's Congress, met Wednesday with Hong Kong leaders, academics and professionals.

A day earlier, the NPC alarmed many Hong Kong residents with a legal ruling that says Hong Kong must get Beijing's permission before introducing any democratic reforms in its legislature.

But Mr. Qiao says many in the meeting expressed their support for China's decision. Mr. Qiao says the speakers called the NPC ruling legal and reasonable.

Many Hong Kong residents view the NPC ruling as a severe blow to the integrity of Hong Kong's constitution, known as the Basic Law.

That document is the cornerstone of China's "one country, two systems" policy, which took effect when Hong Kong returned from British to Chinese sovereignty in 1997. The policy guarantees Hong Kong's autonomy and civil liberties.

The Basic Law allows for the direct election of Hong Kong's chief executive by popular vote as early as 2007. It allows for the legislature to be directly elected in 2008. At present, both branches of government are essentially filled by appointment from Beijing.

Tuesday's NPC decision does not cancel out election reform, but it gives Beijing the right to delay it indefinitely.

Lawyer and democracy activist Ronny Tong says Hong Kong should push for electoral reforms based on the Basic Law's timetable.

"This is the time for Hong Kong people to stand up, and use their voice, to say in a very clear and firm way, that this is what we want," he said.

Some activists have already begun raising their voices. A handful of protesters parked a van equipped with loudspeakers in front of Hong Kong's central government offices Wednesday morning. Police removed them from the scene before Deputy Secretary Qiao's scheduled arrival.

The protest could be a foreshadowing of things to come; one pro-democracy group is vowing to rally 10,000 protesters in the streets of Hong Kong's central district this coming Sunday.

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