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Hong Kong Poll Indicates Pro-Democracy Protesters Not Anti-Beijing - 2004-07-02


A new survey says Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters are mostly focused on local government problems, not the central government in Beijing. Some activists say China's leaders misunderstand the political aspirations of the marchers, who have been accused of being anti-Beijing.

Hong Kong newspapers on Friday were filled with photos of thousands of people marching through the city the day before. They carried signs calling for universal suffrage and for the government to "return power to the people."

Their frustration was largely aimed at the city's government, not China's national leaders, even though Beijing recently ruled out greater democracy in the former British colony for the next several years.

A Hong Kong University survey of the marchers, sponsored by three news organizations, underscored that point. A third of the protestors surveyed held a favorable impression of Hong Kong's government, but 44 percent support the central government in Beijing.

After Thursday's march, Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa said he recognized the public's desire for democracy, but said it was important to proceed at a pace acceptable to Beijing.

"I also hear your aspirations on democracy," he said. "We will take forward constitutional development, with the ultimate aim of universal suffrage in accordance with the principle of gradual and orderly progress."

Many residents are unhappy with Mr. Tung's handling of the economy and with a variety of policy missteps since he took office in 1997. His approval took the biggest plunge last year, largely because of his failed attempt to pass an anti-subversion law that Beijing wanted. Emily Lau is a pro-democracy legislator. She and other activists say residents want better governance, but do not want to change Hong Kong's relationship with China.

"His administration is held accountable for many of the policy failures and the poor circumstances that many of the Hong Kong people have found themselves in," she explained. "And they certainly want the government to improve. In fact, they want to change the government."

However, Beijing does not seem to make this distinction. Many political analysts say mainland officials fear that democracy in Hong Kong could lead to a drive toward independence.

Ms. Lau says that fear is mistaken.

"Nobody's really talking about independence, but some mainland officials have deliberately twisted the meaning, and said that we are trying to get independence for Hong Kong. That's rubbish," she added.

Hong Kong's constitution calls for a gradual movement toward universal suffrage, but gives no timetable. The city's chief executive is picked by a committee approved by Beijing, and only half the legislature is directly elected.

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