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Hong Kong's Outgoing Leader Given Political Home in Beijing

  • Benjamin Sand

China has named Hong Kong's outgoing leader, Tung Chee-hwa, vice chairman of Beijing's top political advisory council. The move is widely seen as a face-saving gesture for Hong Kong's unpopular chief executive, who announced his resignation Thursday.

Tung Chee-hwa will serve as one of several dozen vice chairmen, an honor typically reserved for retiring political dignitaries from the mainland's Communist Party.

Local media showed Mr. Tung in Beijing Saturday, smiling broadly and waving to reporters after the selection process at China's annual legislative session.

His promotion to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference caps a week of political drama in Hong Kong. Mr. Tung Thursday announced he was resigning his post as the territory's leader, citing poor health.

"Age does creep up, and I'll be 68-years-old in three months time, and, for someone who's been working 16, 18 hours a day, for a long, long time, my health has been deteriorating," he said.

But his early departure, more than two years ahead of schedule, fueled rumors that Beijing had forced the unpopular leader out of office.

The timing of his resignation, and the quick nomination to the advisory committee, suggest to many political analysts here that a deal may have been reached to soften the blow.

The new position affords Mr. Tung a great deal of prestige, but little official power. The committee meets in tandem with China's national parliament, offering advice and support, without any formal legal status.

As Hong Kong's chief executive, Mr. Tung was widely criticized. The former shipping magnate was blamed for poor economic policies and his handling of the SARS crisis. But he was most unpopular for his opposition to further democratization in Hong Kong.

Under the so-called one country, two-systems policy, Hong Kong retained significant political autonomy after the British returned the territory to Chinese control in 1997.

Lawmaker Emily Lau says Mr. Tung's resignation, regardless of Beijing's role, remains a victory for the territory's pro-democracy forces.

"The fact that Mr. Tung is stepping down is very much a response to public feeling, although you may say it's a bit late," she said.

Mr. Tung will be replaced by Donald Tsang, Hong Kong's second highest-ranking official.