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Some Hong Kong Pro-Democracy Legislators Invited to Attend Beijing National Day Celebrations - 2004-09-24

Beijing has offered a rare invitation to a number of pro-democracy legislators from Hong Kong to attend National Day celebrations in the Chinese capital. But Beijing's most forceful critics were excluded, and analysts say the government is trying to divide Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp.

At least 10 pro-democracy politicians will head to Beijing from Hong Kong next week to celebrate the communist republic's 55th anniversary.

But only one member of Hong Kong's largest pro-democracy party received an invitation, while the most prominent critics of Beijing were left off the list.

Nevertheless, until recently, Beijing either criticized or completely ignored Hong Kong's democracy activists. So Sin Chung-kai, the one Democratic Party member Beijing invited, has enthusiastically accepted the invitation.

"[The] Democratic Party will try to grab any chance of having a dialogue or communications with mainland China and we will try and use this chance to build relationships," he said.

The Democratic Party is the largest opposition group in Hong Kong, but the pro-democracy movement includes a number of smaller parties and independents as well.

Political Scientist Elaine Chan of Hong Kong University says China is beginning to pick favorites among the democrats in an attempt to isolate the hard-line opposition.

"One cannot underestimate the kind of psychological games that they are capable of playing. They are very good at it," she noted. Earlier this month, the democrats failed to come up to expectations in Hong Kong's legislative elections.

Pro-democracy activists won 60 percent of the popular vote, but did not capture a majority in the legislature.

Ms. Chan says that before the elections, Beijing effectively portrayed the democrats as unreasonable. Now she thinks the government will try to paint them as fragmented and ineffective.

"They are trying to divide them so there might be disagreement within the democratic camps and then the people think, look, they can't even agree among themselves," she said.

But democrats are trying to downplay possible divisions among themselves. And the other activists who have been invited say Beijing's invitations are a welcome gesture.