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China OKs Delay of Vote on Hong Kong Security Laws - 2003-07-08

A top Chinese official says the mainland government accepts Hong Kong leader Tung Chee-hwa's decision to delay a vote on controversial anti-subversion laws. The laws sparked mass protests and cast a shadow over Mr. Tung's leadership.

Gao Siren, the director of China's liaison office in Hong Kong, said delaying a legislative vote on the controversial anti-subversion laws will not harm the reputation of the government and that he respects Hong Kong's decision.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa decided to delay the vote, which was set for Wednesday, after a half-million people marched to protest the laws last week. Critics said the laws could limit important civil liberties.

Hong Kong's constitution calls for it to enact anti-subversion laws, but does not set a deadline. Beijing wants the territory to pass the laws because it fears Hong Kong could be used as a base for subversion against the mainland.

China's Foreign Minister Kong Quan reacted to the delay saying, "He says he thinks the majority of Hong Kong people support Mr. Tung and will eventually support the legislation."

The situation has proved difficult for Mr. Tung, who has come under criticism from the public and from members of his government.

Hong Kong Cabinet member and Tung supporter, James Tien, resigned Sunday. Another cabinet member, Cheng Yiu Tong, has chastised Mr. Tung, saying the mass protest had a "severe impact" on his administration.

Mr. Cheng said that if Mr. Tung fails to regain the peoples' trust, the problem will turn into a crisis.

While the Chinese leadership has refrained from publicly criticizing Mr. Tung, a Hong Kong member of one of China's top advisory bodies says the territory's government needs mending.

Chan Wing-kee said Mr. Tung should strengthen his cabinet before moving forward.

Mr. Tung's opponents already are calling for his resignation.

New polls show public approval for Mr. Tung is falling rapidly. A Hong Kong University survey shows 67 percent of respondents want a change in leadership, and more than 70 percent say they have no confidence in him.

The State Department Monday said Washington welcomes Hong Kong's decision to "respond to the calls" of its people by delaying the laws' passage.

The territory returned to Chinese sovereignty in 1997 after 150 years of British rule. Under a "one country, two systems policy," it has freedoms not enjoyed in mainland China.